Ideology Critique and The Girl (VIAL)

I think that the class is familiar enough with the critical tools we’ve amassed in the last ten weeks to bring them to bear on The Girl. We need to consider two things with regard to this novel. First, its ideological content– specifically Le Sueur’s critique of Depression Era society and her sense of what it would take (what values would be necessary) to change that situation. Second, we should focus on the methods by which Le Sueur establishes that content. Using all of the familiar terms of literary analysis– plot, character, diction, etc.– we should be able to assess how the formal aesthetic choices of The Girl work to assert a definite vision of society.

This will mean thinking about some of the overt themes present in the novel. Clearly the status of women– their position in the world and their relationships to men and one another– is significant. In addition, as was discussed in lecture on Friday, the Body itself is an object of Le Sueur’s scrutiny. Her characters are all deeply rooted in their physicality: they hunger, they suffer, they desire. In a sense this is the basis for a possible solidarity. At our most elemental we are natural beings with all of the limits and possibilities that embodiment implies. Each of us understands what it means to be cold, to seek warmth, or to feel alone.

Le Sueur makes no secret of the fact that hers is an explicitly political position. The statements, conversations, and interior monologues of her characters– particularly Amelia, an organizer for the Workers’ Alliance– criticize harsh economic conditions and narrow gender roles. In this context– no jobs, no money, little hope– the American Dream, the promise that hard work leads to prosperity, becomes a kind of sick joke. The Girl, written in a moment of profound crisis, turns on its head the virtually compulsory optimism of Americans not to reject out of hand the possibility of a better life, but to argue that our redemption can come only through the redefinition of our relationships and, ultimately, collective action. In this sense the novel runs directly counter to one of the most powerful claims of US “common sense”– a core ideological investment in the potency of “enlightened self-interest” which animates Frank Cowperwood and, to a lesser extent, Olaudah Equiano. Such a belief– that society is an aggregate of self-interested individuals, a whole that is always reducible to its constituent parts– is the very lifeblood of the culture of capitalism and has been naturalized to a degree that many people have great difficulty in even acknowledging it as a cultural value rather than an objective fact. Recall that this particular situation– the conflation of fact with value– is ideological in the extreme. As has been argued by Roland Barthes and others, ideology is that which is most present when it seems to be absent, when culture is perceived to be nature.

In other words a careful reading of The Girl in light of the concepts of culture and ideology– their various meanings and functions– can ultimately help us to interrogate the very values which structure our sense of what is real and what is possible, socially.

On Monday I will ask you to reflect on a passage from Le Sueur’s novel, paying particular attention to the values critiqued and/or expressed.

If you have any questions about the above please raise them with me, either in the comments section or in class.

5 thoughts on “Ideology Critique and The Girl (VIAL)

  1. heirkarevoll

    The other day you asked the class if we could pin down some things that to us would define a “hipster”. I have always found it interesting when people so consciously adhere to a certain look and then find their cultural identity through that look. I know there are certain ideeologies that are perhaps typical to a certain sub-culture, but I have always felt that for the mass of people who have a “look”, it is more about the style versus the morals or beliefs. The two biggest examples in my mind are punks and hippies.

    Both ‘cultures’ have so many stereotypes associated with them, and most of those stereotypes have to do with fashion, so when someone wants to belong with the hippies or the punks all they really need to do is put together an outfit that is typical to that culture.

    But I have a problem with that personally. Both those cultures, in my opinion have a set of values that are actually quite similar, and the way you dress is a shallow attempt to belong to one of them. It seems to me more of a desperate plee to be associated with that set without actually feeling it on the inside. It’s fashion, not culture.

    Tha brings me back to the hipster thing. It is pretty easy to make a laundry list of stereotypes and then slap that label onto anyone who resembles whatever look you associate with the word, but that doesnt do much to understand the ideals behind a look. Are there any, or is it merely a look?

    If you dress like a “hippie” then that is supposed to mean you generally care about the environment, you are good to other people, you share what you have, etc, etc. If you dress like a “punk” then I guess that is supposed to mean you’re anti-establishment, you dont care what people think of you (all though such lengths to look like you dont care would suggest otherwise in my opinion, but whatever) and your mad at the system or whatever.

    But I have seen first hand plenty of people rocking these looks and not really living the ideals. So who the hell are they? Posers?

    Here is a funny video I found poking fun at the “hipster look”. Only the makers of this video have given them another name. I generally dont like stereotyping and teasing, but this is pretty funny. It also adresses some values and practices that one might be able so associate with the look.

    And it’s a catchy tune. Enjoy

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