Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Rona began with a brief summary of the origins of debating. Introducing us to the process of "Socratic Questioning" and the workings of "Imaginative Empathy," she challenged us to spot the differences between debate and dialogue, and asked us to consider the merits and shortcomings of both. This included an opening question on how we felt about debate as a form...Memories of high school debating teams intermingled, here, with strong opinions about the value (or not!) of politicians going face-to-face before an election during a televised debate. It was decided that good debating should be well researched, entertaining, insightful and respectful. Linnet's discussion of the London Debating Societies that briefly flourished during the Age of Enlightenment helped to shed light on how these good debating qualities evolved within, and became synonomous with, a more inclusive "bourgeois public sphere" over the course of the 18th Century. Likewise, her discussion of women's gradual entry into these debating societies and her exploration of the part the societies played in helping the general public to hammer out a new understanding of gender roles and gender relations provided us with an insight into how women fit into the growth and development of the debate format.
And then, it was time to start debating! The first exercise was designed to prep the group for the forthcoming debate, and took the form of a socratic questioning session done in pairs. The idea was to help each other find clarity in our views as they related to the evening's debate question. Through this exercise we were able to start building a characterization of "the good girl" and "the bitch" as tropes, and of our respective conceptions of what getting "further in life" might look like. On returning to the group, and after a brief feedback session that revealed people's process of questioning as well as their rough character sketches, Rona randomly split the group into good girls and bitches for the debate. Before setting off, Linnet helped the good girls to get into character by reading them an excerpt from the 1851 edition of The Etiquette Book for Ladies. Meanwhile, the bitches were getting a good dose of 'bitchspeak' courtesy of the bitch manifesto by Jo Freeman.
Each group was given 10 minutes to prepare a platform of 3 strong points supporting their argument that either bitches, or good girls, get further in life. After each side presented their platform, there ensued a lively, hotly contested, and at times, hilarious, round of open debate. The crossfire round completed, Rona asked members of each group to consider a point that had been made over the course of the evening that made them think about the good girl or the bitch differently, or that challenged their own preconceived idea about either one of these tropes. Here is a taste of what debaters presented as arguments to suggest that their trope got further in life, and the kind of rebuttals that came back at them...
Argument: Good Girls are well liked, helpful, always asked to the party again and again, and in fact, will be the first in line to help set up that party and clear it away...Small wonder they get all those invitations! Good Girls get on in life because they are easy going and diplomatic, and people will always be ready and willing to help them out because they don't ruffle any feathers.
Rebuttal: The good girl is suppressing her true self and lives in the shadow of others. Though she pretends to be so nice and accommodating, she is in fact as manipulative as the next person - doing good in order to get on. She never becomes her own person, so busy is she helping others to become their own persons. She is dull and uninteresting, so why would anyone even want her at their party?!
Argument: The Bitch lives in the moment, she doesn't care what people think of her, she has no time for convention, she gets on by being fiercely herself, and because it's impossible to ignore her. Leave it to the co-dependent good girl to concern herself with getting on "further" in life, sneers the bitch. For the bitch, there are no limits when it comes to life...She IS life, and she is making it happen all around her on her own terms.
Rebuttal: the bitch doesn't care who she steps on to get on...she is mean, aggressive, egotistical and insensitive. People do not like her, are not prepared to help her, and she is - whether she is prepared to admit it or not - as effected by people's opinion of her as is the good girl.
Linnet finished the debate with a question to the whole group about which of the tropes was more true to herself, and which was the more revolutionary. From the discussion that followed it became clear that both tropes were reactive tropes - each struggling to find a way through a generally constrictive status quo and each, as a result, becoming defined by her positioning in relation to the status quo. One always beavering away within the limits of convention...The other always fighting against those limits and spilling outside of them...In the end, we decided, it was the bitch who probably made the greatest headway when it came to challenging the status quo, though whether she managed to shake things up for other women in so doing was a question we found ourselves pondering as the evening drew to a close.
This is fitting, given that our next salon evening - on January 12, 2012 - is all about challenging the status quo through the literary genre known as the manifesto...A conversational form, if you like, that is at once a rousing call to action, at once an eloquent account of an individual's or collective's beliefs and goals. Looking at the manifesto will give us an opportunity to pry open the prickly subject of women and their anger. It will also provide us with the perfect opportunity to look at wine women and philosophy's very own manifesta - if you want to get a head start, you can find it on our website!
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
On a more personal note, and in that same post, Linnet spoke of a personal project that she was undertaking in the hope of finding out more about three shadowy female relatives in her family - one of whom was her paternal grandmother who had lost contact with her father back in 1930 when he was just two years old. Beyond knowing her name, Linnet knew nothing of this woman and had never even seen a photograph of her. Six months later, the photograph of a beautifully flapperesque Hylda Louise sits on Linnet's mantelpiece, and the pieces of her grandmother's colourful life are slowly falling into place. Among these pieces is the discovery of two half-siblings that Linnet's father never knew he had. Linnet is travelling to England next week to meet one of them, and will no doubt know a lot more about her grandmother by the time she returns. At wine women and philosophy we speak a lot about things we can do to open the door to more imaginative futures...In this case, a subscription to ancestry.com has closed the door on an imagined past and opened the door to a whole new family!
And speaking of making links...While Linnet is in London she will be attending a philosophy discussion put on by Philosophy For All entitled "What are you thinking about?". She will also be meeting with PFL founder and the editor of Philosophy Now magazine, Anji Steinbauer, to talk about teaching philosophy in an adult education context, about designing philosophy programs with women in mind, and about the creation of an exciting new London-based initiative that brings philosophy to the public - the London School of Philosophy.
Remember those field trips back when you were in elementary school?...Does anybody smell the whiff of a wine women and philosophy field trip to London in the works?...
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Dear valued members and friends,
We have been doing some serious thinking about a new direction for wwp. As you will gather from the manifesta that appears below, our current emphasis is much more on the teaching of philosophy than on activity-based getaways. For those of you who know us and our history, we welcome your input. For those of you who have yet to discover wine women and philosophy, we will be interested to hear if our ideas appeal to you.
Members may be interested to know that the manifesta as a literary form and rousing call to action will be the focus of our December salon evening. More details about this event will follow soon. In the meantime, don't forget our upcoming salon evening on October 27th which takes the form of a debate between those age-old tropes assigned to women: 'The Good Girl' and 'The Bitch'.
wine women and philosophy manifesta
Wine women and philosophy is a philosophy school with a difference. What makes us different? In a nutshell, we turn living rooms, wine bars, and country retreats into classrooms. We cater solely to women. And we find ways to make philosophy pertinent to women's lives.
We don’t promise that philosophy will save your life…But we are convinced that it will make your life a lot more interesting. This is how we do it.
As educational entrepreneurs we put women first.
- we admire women who have the courage to walk through the door and who are prepared to take the risk of learning something new
- we treat every woman as a person who thinks unlike any other person, and who has thoughts, ideas and sensibilities that can enrich learning for others
- we ask ourselves constantly how we can meet women’s educational aspirations and give them a learning experience that they value
- we believe that every woman who challenges herself to learn something new opens the door to a new way of engaging with the world.
As committed professionals we design unique educational experiences that take seriously each woman's creative and reflective side.
- we create friendly teaching and learning environments in convivial locales
- we provide a safe place for women to find their voice around the issues they care about and to be opened to issues that they might care about in the future
- we are developing a challenging, rigorous and fun way to learn which encourages everyone's contribution
- we embrace a feminist pedagogy that challenges authoritative 'expertise' ; that values and builds on women's individual life experiences and backgrounds; and that seeks to broaden the idea of what education is and who gets to participate in it.
As hands-on philosophers we are dedicated to adventurous thinking.
- we bring the word ‘excitement’ into the teaching and learning of philosophy
- we employ innovative teaching methods that breathe a breath of fresh air into your life
- we speak from the heart and work hard to make sure that our words aren't empty, or overly laden with jargon
- we champion more imaginative futures for ourselves and for those with whom we teach and learn.
As dynamic animators we are proud to offer a philosophy program that is accessible, vibrant and well thought through.
- we start with a topic: past topics have ranged from Funny girls in film to the trope of the Invisible Matron ; from How we look at photographs to Finding your body in your favourite poem
- we then link a theme to that topic: for example, our look at family photographs becomes a way to explore the place of nostalgia and memory in our lives; our dip into your favourite poem opens the door to discussing the difference between reading poetry for what it says (the realm of representation) and discovering within that poem the traces of a living, breathing body (the workings of affect)
- we introduce, next, some philosophical concepts to highlight connections between topic and theme, and to build a shared language that helps to prompt our collective working of ideas and individual understandings: Roland Barthes' notion of punctum, for example, builds a bridge between the piercing effect that a detail in a photograph can have on us and its triggering of a memory pang; Julia Kristeva's interpretation of the rhythmic and womb-like chora, for example, enables us to better grasp how certain styles of writing are more bodily than others
- we use props!...drawing on a variety of conversational forms, playful exercises and artifacts we turn abstract concepts into grounded insights, taken-for-granted assumptions into interesting questions. In this way, a cookie cutter and a piece of dough become a way to understand how ‘the male gaze’ works ; sifting through a box of seemingly random objects illuminates a post-structuralist line of flight.
As a passionate team dedicated to enriching women’s lives through philosophy, we love those things that make us feel alive.
- aha! moments
- questions, questions, questions…
- messy thinking, u-turns and loose ends
- friendships blossoming out of shared learning experiences
- an individual woman suddenly discovering her 'inner philosopher'
- a growing number of women realizing that philosophy is for them.
Interested? Excited? Want to know more? We are eager to tell you about our salon series, our philosophy club, our membership schemes, our activity groups, and our up-and-coming educational offerings in a wine bar near you!
Email Linnet or Rona at firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 9, 2011
The conversational approach being highlighted on this particular evening was the show-and-tell format - a technique developed in the late 1940s by elementary teachers in North America to help young children become more comfortable with public speaking. Rona provided us with a brief history of this peer-to-peer learning approach and those present were quick to recount their own experiences of show-and-tell sessions at school. Then it was time to get going with some show-and-tell experimentation wwp style!
Our first task was to establish our respective relationships to poetry. Memories of feeling intimidated by poetry's seeming inaccessibility at school, of suffering humiliating memory blocks when reciting a poem at the front of the class, of failing to come up with the 'right' interpretation of a poem on an exam, of never really getting what all the fuss about poetry was about, of finding it a comfort for lonely times, of seeing it as something mysterious that only a chosen few could ever penetrate, all came flooding back. Along with these memories came a growing understanding of why poetry seemed to shut so many of us out - that idea that there was just one possible way of 'reading' a poem that one either 'got' or not - and of how a different approach to this literary genre might help to make it less prohibitive and more appealing.
To this end, Linnet proposed a bodily approach to engaging with poems. First, she presented what she termed 'Derrida's Dilemma' - that is, French philosopher Jacques Derrida's lament that words on a page are but the "dead remains" of the living body that penned them, and his gloomy conclusion that short of tapping into a vein and pouring our blood right out there onto the page, we must resign ourselves to the fact that writing is, on the whole, woefully devoid of the body's vitality and variegated textures. By way of a response, Linnet suggested that Bulgarian philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva's understanding of words as being a combination of untamed rhythmic bodily tones and more stabilizing denotative meanings might provide a way out of this impasse.
For the next little while we explored and experimented with Kristeva's notions of phenotext and genotext, of the symbolic world of grammar and syntax and the semiotic bodily drives, of straightforward texts that are pleasurable to read and reflect upon and unruly texts that, unprompted and in spite of ourselves, produce a visceral and sometimes violent bodily response. Picking up on Kristeva's belief that poetry, more than any other literary genre, provides us with the best way to explore how the writer's fleshly body lives on in the words that she produces, we discussed the rhythmic and tonal aspects of poetry that help us to tangibly feel the presence of that body. We also speculated on how best to go about sensing and savouring this body's sonority and tactility, its motility and materiality, even its smell!
Though not all of us felt quite ready to abandon the idea that a poem's principle worth lies in its literal meaning, everybody was at least prepared to consider the idea that words, if allowed to swell on the page, to dance before us, to jostle and jive and come alive, might provide us with a means to becoming active participants in the poem itself. In this way, we began to engage with poetry not as an exercise of the mind, but as a physical experience with the power to either move us or not. If nothing else, we acknowledged that such an approach could open the door to appreciating a poem - to truly loving a poem - even if we had no real sense of what that poem was trying to say.
Then it was showtime. In turn, each of us introduced and read the poem that we had selected on the basis of it having touched us in some way - among our guest poets were Maya Angelou, Alison Pick, Anais Nin, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Muriel Rukeyser, Jacqueline Bouvier and Elizabeth Bishop. It should be noted here that 3 members chose a poem by Maya Angelou - two of them even choosing the same poem (Phenomenal Woman). As for our task as audience members, it was not to engage with each poem's meaning. Rather, Linnet encouraged us to listen with our bodies and moreover, to listen out for the body of the poet as evoked in and through the words she used and the spaces she left between them. Again, this way of appreciating poetry was not always self-evident...If there is one thing that formal schooling appears to have taught us well, it is that the message lies in the analysis and not in the affect. Still, wwp members are no strangers to experimentation and taking risks when it comes to new approaches to learning and by the end of the evening, we were finding some unexpected rewards and stumbling upon the occasional revelation as a result of allowing our bodies to do the thinking.
Thank you to all those members who attended. We were impressed by the zeal with which each of you undertook the assigned homework and the depth of insight that each of you brought to the group discussion. Wow! It felt so good to be back stretching concepts and working ideas with all of you!
Our next salon evening takes places on Thursday the 27th of October and takes the form of a debate. In the blue corner, the good girls. In the red corner, the bitches. Watch this space to find out more.
Friday, August 5, 2011
This evening offers the perfect opportunity to explore your own relationship to poetry and how it makes you feel - be that good, bad or indifferent. It also looks at poetry through the lens of affect - examining why certain poems either move us or not, and what kind of philosophical contribution a good poem makes to the world. Not too sure where to start?
Here is a list of some well known poets you may enjoy checking out:
- Emily Dickinson (pictured immediately above)
- Wendy Cope
- Dorothy Parker
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Sylvia Path
- Elizabeth Bishop
- Carol Ann Duffy (pictured below)
- Louise Bogan
- Muriel Rukeyser
- May Swenson
- May Sarton
- Maya Angelou (pictured top)
- Hilda Doolittle
Sunday, May 15, 2011
It was an evening of revisiting some of the highlights of this shared philosophy experience - personal revelations that came of communal writing exercises, insights into how each of us learns and teaches best as explored though our membership salon evening in early May, research projects into female family history that have gained a momentum of their own and will be carrying on far beyond this current series. It was an evening that delved into the history of women and the autobiographical genre - examining how in times gone by, it was the letters and diaries of "great women" that spoke to the pains and sacrifices, the successes and accompanying swagger, that came of their achievements, and not their published autobiographies which were narratively flat, assumed a passive voice, and were all too quick to attribute any hint of accomplishment to Lady Luck or some Higher Force. For the few "great women" of yore whose stories were actually deemed worthy of an autobiography, the hard truth of what it entailed to dodge convention, to be "great", had to be concealed. The only acceptable way to come across in one's autobiography was as an exception to the general rule for women with its emphasis on domestic servitude over public service, with its prioritizing of marriage and child-rearing over education and a career. If this societal agenda meant that this very small band of storied "great women" were denied the opportunity to serve as either models or mentors to girls and women hoping to follow in their path, it goes without saying that women deemed anything less than exceptionally "great" were entirely overlooked when it came to the autobiographical form.
A different voice started to emerge, however, in those personal memoirs that accompanied the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. Feminist thinker and literary critic Carolyn Heilbrun speaks of a voice that was no longer speaking from the sole standpoint of "the exception chosen by destiny or chance," but rather, from a plethora of standpoints: "lesser lives, great lives, thwarted lives, lives cut short, lives miraculous in their unapplauded achievement." It was with this opening up of the autobiographical genre in mind that we set about assembling our own stories of Self: releasing our creative juices to the tune of the dizzying spinning of Mary Daly's radical Spinster scribes; taking a page out of Germaine Greer's book as we assumed an "outward gaze" in order to see not the "I" of the male gaze, nor the self-conscious "I" of our own "mind's eye," but an "I" that, in giving in to wonder and feeling the immensity of a world beyond our-selves, could actually become a Self - calm, detached, joyful, integrated, whole. Thus, in a series of quick exercises, we located and experienced that Self in different paintings around the room; in the poetry of Emily Dickinson - "Ourself, behind ourself concealed/ Should startle most;"; in concepts that had stuck to us through the course of this six-week series.
A reading of these "autobiographical" sketches brought the evening to an end, and with it, a great sense of achievement and a heartfelt moment of celebration on the part of the graduating class of the wwp Philosophy Club's 2011 Spring Session. For my part, I am just astonished at what we have created by way of a living and breathing philosophy around the figure of the Invisible Matron. If anything is going to shatter the myth that philosophy is stuffy and inaccessible and dry, this is it!
Though it is sad to see this fantastic group of women disband and this rich experience come to an end, I take heart from poet Elizabeth Jennings' words: "The poem leaves you and it sings." As we take leave of each other, the song begins. As we step a little more boldly, a little less gingerly, into our respective thresholds, we know that this is the place where, as women, we write our own lines.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Such was the tone of our fifth session of the Philosophy Club's Invisible Matron series - a session that was extended to all of our membership so that those who hadn't been part of our six-week Philosophy Club experience could get a taste of what we had explored and how we had done the exploring, and those who had participated in it could share their insights and observations about the trope of the Invisible Matron from the standpoint of presenters and teachers. To this end, the evening was divided into three parts - the first an experiment in "pay-it-forward" learning; the second an exercise in collaborative writing; and the third a performative intervention designed to fill those unlit corridors of history with a cacophony of ours and our foremother's voices.
Our "pay-it-forward" learning exercise drew on three inspirational ideas: first, the idea put forth by critical theorist bell hooks at a time when women's studies courses first started making their way into universities, that those who were lucky enough to be students in these classes should go down to their local YWCA or community centre after school and pass on what they had learned to any women who were interested; second, the idea put into action by chef Jamie Oliver, that if you teach a person who has never cooked before how to make a tasty meal, and then get that person to teach another person how to make that same meal, you now have two people who can teach two more people how to do it, and then four people teaching four more, and so forth, until some time later, everybody can make that tasty meal; and third, the idea of speed-dating, which takes an assembly line approach to meeting people and establishing compatibility through getting a room of people to engage in quick one-on-one conversations, before they are moved on to the next person for another conversation.
Our wwp version of this kind of "pay-it-forward" thinking found each Philosophy Club participant taking responsibility for one key word or term that had particularly caught their imagination over the course of the Invisible Matron series, and setting themselves up with a chair opposite them. Members who had not taken the class were directed to the vacant chairs, and when the bell rang, Philosophy Club participants had two minutes to teach the wwp member facing them all they could about their chosen word or term. When the bell rang, members moved on to another chair and gained access to a new word or term. By the end of the exercise, everybody present had been let into the world of "feminist standpoint epistemology" and "liminality", "fragments" and "structures of feeling", finding a "voice" and dealing with "ageism", negotiating "the male gaze" and grappling with "The Invisible Matron" herself! If those on the learning end of this experiment felt like they'd been treated to a crash course in feminist philosophy, those doing the teaching were given a great insight into how the act of sharing knowledges helps to consolidate what you do know and illuminate your epistemological potholes!
Then it was onto our second exercise of the evening - scripting a collective dialogue around a painting by New Zealand artist Frances Hodgkins - with Philosophy Club participants who had earned their stripes with this kind of activity over the preceding 6 weeks acting as coaches to those new to the game. Dividing into groups, we set to work...If the object was to "read" what was transpiring between the two women in the painting, the "spin" that each group put on the scene demonstrated both the places where our cultural understandings about women and their ways of relating collude, and the gaps that allow for imaginative lines of flight out of those expected patterns. A particular pleasure was taken in the knowledge that in "spinning" four new scripts out of this early 20th century painting, we were also paying tribute to those "spinster" aunts and cousins who take their title from the ancient female art of spinning threads into a glorious range of multifarious shapes and motifs.
Finally, to our communal reading, in which Philosophy Club participants created a symphony of voices celebrating the lives of those 'lost' female relatives - among them, a number of unsung "spinsters" - whom they had researched on an individual basis. As participants simultaneously read the pieces they had written out of fragments that remained of these women's lives - photographs, recipes, a vanity set, a painting, a hastily scribbled last will and testament, snips of conversation, to name just some of the recuperated scraps we drew upon - those listening to the impromptu performance were able to focus in on individual threads or just let the whole piece wash over them. Like with history, like in the stories we tell about our lives and the lives of others, we can chose to see the trees or we can lose ourselves in the forest. The important thing is that our histories, our stories, get told and passed on so that 100 years from now, at a salon evening somewhere in Montreal, there will be no need to ask where the women are, or why they are missing.
Thank you to all who participated for making this such a memorable event. We will be holding a summer barbeque for members - date to be announced. In the meantime, how about brushing up on your female poets and favourite poems in preparation for the next salon evening on September 8th. A lawn chair, a glass of wine and a book of poetry...what a lovely way to spend a summer's evening!
Sunday, May 1, 2011
In considering our Invisible Matron grandmothers and great aunts and mystery household members from the standpoint of biographers and storytellers, however, we were faced with the equally daunting task of working out what kinds of narratives we wanted to create. Did we, for example, feel that it was enough to finally grant these women their place in the sun through writing texts that celebrated their hitherto overlooked lives and achievements? Or did we feel it necessary to turn their very absence from existing histories into the actual story we were telling: writing not so much pieces that celebrated these hidden lives as challenged and destabilized those accounts that had left them out in the first place.
This triggered a lively discussion around the nature of change in society, and how best to bring women's voices and experiences into the picture and even more important, make them count. Reflecting on Carolyn Heilbrun's definition of power - that is, "the ability to take one's place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one's part matter" - we questioned what kind of writing might lend itself most effectively to achieving this end. Drawing on fragments of text that addressed the very process and practice of writing as a social and political intervention, and piecing them together so as to create for ourselves a preliminary mapping of what our Philosophy Club writing project might look like, we threw those traditional ideals of female destiny - safety and closure - out with the proverbial bath water, and opted for experimentation and adventure instead. This direction echoed that taken by many of the "intrepid traveller" Victorian era female diarists whom we had encountered in Betty Jane Wylie's excellent account of women and diary-writing. It also spoke to Janet Wolff's idea of women's writing being akin to a "wild zone" where, in the absence of a script, we have the chance to create something new. As to the issue of filling in the many gaping holes that remain in the lives of the women we are attempting to bring to life through our writing, we grappled with Roland Barthes' suggestion that biography is nothing more than "a novel that dares not speak it's name." If our views on this quote differed substantially, so too did the amount of poetic license that each of us felt prepared to allow ourselves as we stepped into our roles as biographers.
And so to the wild zone...And a collective writing exercise to get the creative juices flowing. Breaking into small groups, we gave a voice to one of Vanessa Bell's nude models: writing a first person narrative for the woman in the painting who, judging by the pose captured by this early 20th century female artist, was doing a good job of subverting the traditional male gaze. Though we approached the exercise with trepidation, we were soon tapping into our collective inner poet. The poetry that came out of this experimental adventure was far from safe, and spoke to anything but closure. Rather, it took chances and opened doors - very similar, in fact, to the experience of aging that this Invisible Matron series is rendering visible to us. It certainly introduced a welcome twist into the birthday toast we raised, complete with cake and candles, to one of our Philosophy Club participants - turning another year older into a genuine cause for celebration.
From collective writing and cake eating, we moved on to an exercise in communal reading...Or at least, a dress rehearsal for the performative intervention that we will make next Thursday at the members' salon evening. Central to this intervention are written pieces that each of us is creating from the fragments that our individual research projects have brought to light: fading photographs, flashes of memory, inscriptions in books, yellowed newspaper clippings, time-worn obituary notices, moss-covered gravestones, a cherished brooch. Bringing these fragments into dialogue with the novels and poetry and works of art and architecture and fashions of the historical times our respective 'recuperated' women lived through is enabling us to evoke a "structure of feeling" around them. Bringing these structures of feeling into dialogue with our personal desires and wishes for our women is enabling our writing to speak both to their times and to our times. In so doing, we write both them, and our midlife selves, into a new kind of living text that scripts women's experiences in a voice that is our own.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Feel free to bring along a friend who might be interested...It promises to be an eye-opening and entertaining evening.
And as always, we would appreciate an RSVP...
Looking forward to seeing you on May 5th
Friday, April 15, 2011
Alright, so it was a busy night...But believe me, there was method to our madness. You see, we'd been fleshing out our understanding of "the male gaze" through grounding it in our lived experience as midlife media consumers. When we reached a philosophical impasse, out came the cookie cutters and with them, an exercise in how framing works. Many little ginger bread men later, we were well on our way to developing a critical and questioning stance with regard to those prescribed ways of seeing the world, and how we get interpellated by them. As for creating an arsenal of tactics to take on this hegemonic minefield, we found it in the scraps of dough that the cookie cutters had left behind.
Turning to our theme of the week - the Invisible Matron as historical fragment and literary footnote - and comparing our doughy "leftovers" to the place relegated women throughout Western history, we stepped into our sensible researcher shoes and considered how to render someone visible and vibrant out of nothing much. It was reassuring to realize just how much information a fragment or a footnote holds; moreover, just as that leftover scrap of dough can be made into something that hasn't been made before, we saw the advantages in reconstructing a life from overlooked material that had, quite literally, slipped below the radar and escaped the objectifying look of the male gaze! Breaking into teams, we "sped-built" two such lives out of boxed remains that included fragments of letters, old photographs, remnants of clothing, and faded ticket stubs. After the Easter break, we'll be turning the fragment into a revolutionary writing tactic that, when used strategically, can introduce a literary hiccup into the seemingly seamless flow of the traditional Western narrative. Until then, you'll find us up in our attics amongst the fragments...Searching for our "spinster" aunties, searching for our "matronly" great-grandmothers.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
We began the evening exploring the connotative and denotative meanings of words like "matron" and "spinster" and "old maid" - as attentive to the actual definitions of these words as to how they made us feel, and to the kind of visual pictures they provoked. These pictures, we observed, were quite at odds with the midlife women we actually know, not to mention with the picture of midlife womanhood painted in the articles we had read in preparation for our session. Breaking into groups, we worked Joanna Frueh's presentation of hypermuscular body-building midlife women negotiating the monster/beauty paradigm alongside Vivian Sobchack's presentation of "scary" surgical makeovers undertaken by midlife women in both cinema and real life. This exercise heightened our awareness of the many ways we can 'read' the midlife female body, but equally, of how few of those bodies are socially acceptable and how thin the line is between 'good' visibility and 'bad' visibility. As we turned to our visual case study of the evening - Susan Boyle's 2009 audition on Britain's got Talent - this latter reflection became particularly pertinent.
All of us had seen the Susan Boyle audition before. But watching it together - and armed as we were with John Berger's assertion that, as women in our society, we are the objects of a male gaze and as such, spend a good deal of our lives seeing ourselves as that gaze sees us - was an altogether different (and for some of us, quite excruciating) experience. Not so much, this, the heart-warming story of "frumpy 47-year-old spinster" making good against all odds. Rather, what our spectator selves saw was the actual framing of those 'odds' - the idea, as perpetuated by a bullying crowd and a sneering panel of judges, that a talent show is no place for a woman whose hair is graying, whose body is full, whose clothes are 'old-fashioned', whose eyebrows are bushy...In short, no place for a woman whose "odds" are that she is middle-aged with a face that is ordinary and a body that is natural and a character that is gutsy. The comments made by the judges after her "still reeling from shock"-inducing, "biggest surprise ever" singing performance only served to reinforce the societal prejudices that our society has towards a midlife woman like Susan Boyle. Grappling with a way to 'read' this spectacle for what it was - a blatant example of sexism, ageism and looks-ism all rolled into one - we explored how mediated products are encoded with certain meanings, and how it is up to us to decode them in ways that better suit us. We can, for example, read the Susan Boyle audition "against the grain" - creating, in so doing, a new oppositional spectator positioning that challenges the implied or ideal spectator positioning that the producer of the program expects us, as viewers, to have.
Next Thursday we will return briefly to the male gaze - it is a difficult concept to grasp, and one that becomes clearer through examining, as we are doing on our own this week, a range of cultural products (from TV ads to Hollywood films to "high art" paintings of women) and making note of the eyes through which we gaze at them, the eyes for whom they seem to be intended, and the point of view that we find ourselves taking on as we do our looking. We will also bring to that discussion what happens to ourselves as we walk in the park, walk down a busy street, stand in a line waiting to be served in a shop, make a presentation at work. Are we fully in ourselves, looking out at the world? Or are we also watching ourselves being watched - aware of what we are looking like in the world and to that world, as compared to what we maybe should or could be looking like? And then, we'll be moving on to a more comprehensive look at the word "old" and, along with that, stepping into our roles as researchers of the Invisible Matron in "olden" times.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Of course, it is equally important to find a voice with which to speak our thoughts and ideas. Our second ongoing thread is the very issue of the female voice as it pertains to our journey from childhood to old age in a world that has often shut down or distorted what we have to say and how we say it. Drawing on Carol Gilligan, we discussed the "different voices" that, as women, we have called forth at different stages of our life, as well as those voices that we have suppressed for the sake of creating peaceful relationships with others, or for fear of being rejected or of not being heard. Acknowledging that such fears might be lessening at a time when, as midlife women, we are also becoming somewhat invisible to the larger society, we embraced the irony of possibly finding more freedom in not being seen or heard, and decided to use this series as a place to experiment from the vantage point of this new positioning, as well as to seek out our "natural voice" within it.
In fact, this kind of tenuous betwixt-and-between space that many of us are finding ourselves in at this stage of our life provided us with the third guiding thread for the series: the concept of liminality, and what it means to be a woman on the threshold - or limen - of something new, something uncertain, but something that - for its very intangible allure - makes a return to the past seem out of the question.
Key to the whole Philosophy Club venture is that we are not so much re-hashing old philosophical ideas as creating new knowledges out of actively doing philosophy in a group context. Our plan, then, is to look at the Invisible Matron from a number of different angles, and to assume each week a different standpoint from which to observe her. Assigned readings help to shed light on the Invisible Matron in her various forms and guises, and each weekly two-hour session involves small lectures, group exercises, and lively discussion. Yesterday evening's angle on the Invisible Matron was that of Mother, and we took the standpoint of daughters. In preparation for the session, we had all read Ruth Reichl's moving and insightful tribute to her mother, Not Becoming my Mother: & other things she taught me along the way. Breaking into small groups, we explored the various voices that we hear while reading the book, as well as our own voice as it engaged both with Mim's passage from obedience to rebellion to despair and finally, independence and happiness, and with Ruth's attempt to get to know her mother after her death, through the letters and diaries that Mim left behind.
To cap off the evening an exercise involving old photographs, the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the use of voice and standpoint provoked much hilarity as well as led to some deep insight. It galvanized the group and set a wonderful tone for next week's look at The Invisible Matron as spectacle.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Marta's tribute to her mother on the 10th anniversary of her death showcased Krystyna's paintings over the course of a 30 year period - from when she began painting in earnest in her 50s, working through her often traumatic wartime memories in Poland through abstract expressionism, to a more peaceful time in her life, which she captured in a mixed media series of beloved Sherbrooke landscapes.
Krystyna's moving artistic works were beautifully displayed at her granddaughter, Yasmin's, yoga studio in Pointe-Claire village. We were both touched by Marta's frank and kind words about her mother, and her request that we all take the time to think about the contributions and often overlooked talents of the special women in our lives. This is certainly a theme that is dear to our hearts at wine women and philosophy - it rings especially true in the week that our new Philosophy Club series, The Invisible Matron, is beginning.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
An immersive philosophical exploration entitled The Invisible Matron, that meets once a week in Montreal West on a Thursday evening (7.30-9.30pm) over a six-week period. We use a combination of small lectures, assigned readings, "living philosophy" exercises, and group discussions to work the ideas that arise from both the corpus and the experiences of those participating in the course. Our readings will be drawn from writings by, among others, Carol Gilligan, Gloria Steinem, Carolyn Heilbrun, Luce Irigaray, Iris Marion Young, Kathleen Woodward, Germaine Greer, Roland Barthes, Joanna Frueh, Gilles Deleuze, Barbara MacDonald, May Sarton, Susan Griffin, Adrienne Rich, and Nel Noddings. We will explore the following themes:
- the idea that women grow more radical as they age and acquire a different voice with which to speak ;
- the traditional mind/body split within Western Philosophy that has failed to take seriously the lived bodily experiences of women in general, and women hitting midlife and beyond more specifically ;
- the trope of the obedient and dutiful daughter ;
- the ways we negotiate belonging and "fitting in" at different stages of our lives.
- the monster/beauty paradigm that accompanies women's journey in and out of visibility and invisibility ;
- how women's lives have been "written" in a wide range of media so as to conceal truths and reinforce stereotypes ;
- the lost or hidden lives of "ordinary" women throughout history, and how these lives can be recuperated and reclaimed through traces like their diaries, letters, and photographs ;
- the framings that society makes of women who lead both conventional lives and those who step outside of the conventions;
- what it is to be an aging female "self" in a society that worships youth and has a very limited conception of female beauty and female "being-in-the-world.
Week 1: March 31
Week 2: April 7
Week 3: April 14
Week 4: April 28
Week 5: May 5 - coincides with our bi-monthly salon, which is a forum discussion about The Invisible Matron
Week 6: May 12
How can I find out more? Go to our philosophy club page on our website. Please note that places on the course will be assigned on a first-come-first-serve basis and that priority will be given to our members.
Friday, March 11, 2011
The paucity of female representation within the domain of Heraldry prompted a counter-exploration of banners and placards from the women's suffragette movement and this in turn provided the perfect segue into Linnet's discussion of how symbolism has been conceptualized within the largely masculinist tradition of Western philosophy.
Starting with the etymology of the term symbolism, Linnet led us through the creation of a symbolon - an inscribed shard of pottery that was reminiscent of those used by the Ancient Greeks to recognize an alliance between city states, and from which the term originates. A glimpse at the work of Ernst Cassirer (1874 - 1945) - known as the father of symbolism - and of Jacques Lacan's (1901 - 1981) framing of the Symbolic Order (into which we are inducted with our acquisition of language as children), left us eager to find out more about a feminine approach to symbolism. This we found in the work of French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray (1932- ) who encourages us to draw on our bodily experience of the world and our sense of touch in creating language that "speaks as woman" and in working towards a symbolic support system that subverts "the master discourse" of philosophy.
After a brief exploration of how certain symbols have been misappropriated and reappropriated through the twentieth century - and by this time fully aware of the power and potency that symbols within our culture carry - Rona got us designing our own emblems. These emblems incorporated the qualities that were important to each of us and used words, images, textures and colours to do this. No two end results were alike and the exercise unleashed an exciting wave of creative and immersive participation... Luce Irigaray would not have been disappointed!
A very special thanks to Kim who ended up staying with us until her 3am (!) and whose depth of knowledge, and passion in sharing that knowledge, exemplifies everything that wwp hopes to be.
Thanks also to our fantastic members who made it here on a miserable winter's night. Their dedication was not only rewarded with an excellent salon but also, with scones, jam and Devonshire cream! Our next salon evening is scheduled for May 5th and is entitled "The Invisible Matron." We look forward to seeing you visibly represented at it!
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
For example, in her Philosophy of Health class at Dawson College, Rona turned an examination of role models into a celebration of those girls and women in her students' lives who have been an inspiration to them. For her part, Rona told her class about her grandmother, Nan Brodie, who happens to be 2 years older than IWD and who continues to play an active part in her day-to-day life. As for Linnet, she is using the occasion to launch a recuperative family history project: finding out more about the lives of three female relatives who she never knew - Toronto-based librarian Doris Dignum, New York-based author Mary Graham Bonner, and UK-based grandmother Hilda Kerr Leaning - and is curious to learn more about.
All too often, women's histories and women's stories are lost due to name changes through marriage, to lines dying out when women do not bear children, or simply because nobody considered their achievements and their challenges, their joys and their sorrows, important enough to take note of in the first place. This means that when filling in the gaps in our fore-sisters' lives, we often have to abandon the "official" histories and turn, instead, to alternative sources: to diaries and letters, to recipe boxes and photo albums, to conversations with relatives, colleagues or friends who recall the person and can help you turn those little fragments of a life lived, into a more fully rounded picture.
So here is a call to action to wine women and philosophy members and friends: Let's use this 100th year celebration of IWD to spur us into bringing to light those girls and women who came before us, and whose histories and stories might be lost without our intervention. Sometimes, all we have to do is write or talk about a woman who has inspired us and share it with others - as Rona's students did this morning; as Ariana Huffington did in her piece about her mother in today's Huffington Post. If you are lucky enough to still have this woman in your life, why not tell her in person the difference she has made to you.
Pictured above are the Dignum sisters on holiday at a lake north of Toronto in the 1950s. From left to right: Doris, Larry (Linnet's grandmother), Nora, Edith, Evelyn and Gladys.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
1: Scottish heraldry (guest speaker Kim Nicoll will be Skyped in from Lanark, Scotland to talk to us help us about Scottish heraldry) Pictured is Mary Queen of Scots' coat of arms
2: Designing your own code of ethics or coat of arms (Rona will guide us through the process and requests that you bring along any personal coat of arms that may be in your possession)
3 : Making sense of symbolism (Linnet takes a philosophical look at women and symbolism)
Sounds like fun! Let us know if you can make it along.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The star of the show was undoubtedly Janice's mother, Mary (pictured centre in the first photo), and we watched Mary grow from girl to young wife and mother to the person she is today. Janice has an uncanny ability to capture the tiny minutiae of the face and one of the lasting impressions of this show are skin textures, the glint in an eye and sunlight hitting an eyelash. Equally, Janice offers an intimate glimpse into the spirit of the person she is drawing or painting.
This is a show that is well worth taking a trip out to (see details of gallery hours and location on posting below) and we urge you to go and see the magnificent oeuvres that constitute Janice's opus. It was great to see so many wwp members at the event and special thanks go out to Wendy for capturing the show in the photographs below. We will give Wendy the final word... "I was really impressed with the exhibit, Janice has some really beautiful paintings, her mom looked so sweet, and I felt like crying when I saw her there, it was so touching and so family oriented. It was her life in a room."
A personal note of thanks from Janice to our members...
"Greetings to all you fellow wine-drinking, sister-encouraging philosophers! And thank you for your support at the vernissage of my portrait show 'The Crucible'. It is a risky venture in many ways to expose oneself and one's work in a public forum like that, and I was juggling doubts and anxiety for months leading up to it. By your presence, your interest and your smiling faces you made it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for me, as I hope it was for all of you. Thanks Wendy, for capturing the moment with your great photos."
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
As promised at the last salon evening, please find below an invitation to the vernissage of wwp member and resident artist Janice Poltrick Donato's one-woman show - The Crucible...It takes place next Wednesday, February 16, from 8-10pm, and all are invited to attend. If you know of any other people who would be interested, please don't hesitate to send this invitation on to them. And if you can't make the vernissage but are interested in seeing the show, it goes till mid-March - see the invite for gallery hours.
Looking forward to seeing as many of our wine women and philosophy friends as possible at the vernissage.
Linnet and Rona
galerie de la ville
centre des arts de dollard centre for the arts
12001 boul. de Salaberry , DDO, que, H9B 2A7
514-684-1012 ext. 298, www.centreartdollard.com
Media Release January 24, 2011
Galerie de la Ville presents in February-March an exhibition of recent oil paintings, pastels and pencil drawings by Janice Poltrick Donato entitled ‘The Crucible”. While the portrait is an art form that deals with likeness and speaks to the individual being portrayed, it is also a representation of what the artist sees when looking through the window of her sitter’s eyes. In Poltrick Donato’s case, her main sitter is also her mother, a woman with a rich and full history in the grips of the ageing process. The complexity of the interaction between them is at the core of the portraits on display in this exhibition. Poltrick Donato is the daughter paying tribute to her mother’s life, she is the observer/caretaker watching experience narrow and memory fade, and she is the artist exploring physical and spiritual change through colour and form.
Janice Poltrick Donato, a graduate of John Abbott and Dawson Colleges, has worked as an illustrator particularly of children’s books, and as a muralist. She is currently pursuing a double major in Studio Arts and Theology at Concordia University, exploring the connection between creativity and spirituality. She is a member of the Lakeshore Artists Association.
The opening reception for this exhibition will be held on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 from 8 to 10 pm. The exhibition will run from Thursday, February 17 to Sunday, March 20, 2011 at Galerie de la Ville, located in the lower level of the Dollard Cultural Centre, at 12001 de Salaberry Boulevard, in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (Hwy 40 west, Boul. Des Sources north, de Salaberry west, corner Lake).
Opening hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12 to 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For further information, or to arrange free, guided tours of this exhibition for your group of six or more people, please call 514-684-1012, extension 298 or consult our web site at www.dollardartcentre.com/gallery.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Within our membership there are women with wide and varied interests and this has prompted us to move in the direction of creating different wings of wine women and philosophy where projects involving music, art, the DIY movement and philosophy - both as a study in itself but equally as a thread running through these other wings - are conceived, hatched and then nurtured.
As you may already know, wine women and philosophy has an ongoing choir that came out of one of our very first weekends back in March 2009, and a band - The Elegant Hedgehogs - that was formed after a group of women eager to play music together came up to the Nurtury to jam for a couple of days last summer. A weekend of painting this past Autumn forged a lasting link between those who participated in this activity and future plein air painting outings are being planned. In addition, our weekend painters became interested in the women of Beaver Hall - a group of female painters including Prudence Heward, Anne Savage and Sarah Robertson who painted in and around the Montreal area in the first half of the twentieth century - and have since seeded the roots of a small 'recuperative' history project aimed at learning more about this group of inspiring and talented and sadly, largely overlooked, modernist painters.
This past Christmas a wwp table runner project was launched to honour the ongoing support of our members and to celebrate our achievements thus far. Within the next couple of months the table runner project will be up and running with members coming together both in Montreal and up at the Nurtury to quilt and embroider it into being. A wine women and philosophy cook book full of recipes from our daytime and weekend getaways is in the pipeline, the proceeds of which will go to our bursary programme - the Marcelle Foundation. And of course, our bi-monthly salon evenings continue to thrive and our membership continues to grow, all of which keeps philosophy as a conversational form and activity alive and well. There is even talk of starting a philosophy club for those who want to do philosophy on a more regular basis, and a Wednesday Walks series for those interested in ambulatory - or peripatetic - philosophy.
As you can see there is much in the works. Among the questions that we are asking ourselves at this junction are how best to use the Nurtury as a kind of club house in which to pursue these various wings of activity? - and how to ensure that the vibrant and exciting community of women that has grown out of our getaways can continue to pool its collective energies in this next stage of our development? During this time of change and rejuvenation we invite you to be part of the conversation we are having with regard to this new direction and to share with us how you see wine women and philosophy evolving in the future.
Friday, January 21, 2011
This is the first time that we have had a guest speaker address us (until now, those animating the evening have been members) and we were delighted to welcome Patsy into our salon. After all, the guest speaker was a staple of the 18th and 19th century Parisian Salons upon which we model ourselves : a specialist in a certain domain, generally literary or artistic, brought in by the hosting salonniere to enlighten and enrich her cast of salon regulars. We were also delighted to see so many new faces in the room - one, who had been gifted a membership by her daughter-in-law for Christmas; another three, who were friends of an existing member and an away day participant - all of whom we welcomed with joy. There was delight, too, in seeing the familiar faces who form our own cast of salon regulars...Drink in hand and salon packed to the gills, Rona welcomed one and all to the season's premiere, and we were off.
Providing a philosophical backdrop for the reflections on mindfulness that Patsy would offer and expound upon, Linnet spoke briefly of Cartesian Dualism and the age-old quest to work out the limits of, and connections between, mind and body. Explaining the methodological process used by Descartes to first differentiate mind from body and then, elevate mind over body, Linnet suggested some of the shortcomings of this kind of dualist and hierarchical thinking - particularly for women. A brief discussion of Descartes' famous Cogito - "I think, therefore I am" - provided a fitting segue into Patsy's far more organic approach to the mind/body connection, and her discussion - based on personal experience - of those mysterious powers and mystic realms that Descartes' reductive reasoning failed to take into account. Making a good case for the benefits to be had in embracing a more mindful approach to life and its various challenges, Patsy then put her talk into action: leading us through a couple of meditative exercises, and showing how a simple activity like drinking a cup of tea could provide the perfect space for daily meditative practice.
We want to thank Patsy for providing us with an eye-opening look into the world of mindfulness and its link to the body's various energies, not to mention her encouraging of members to find their own "third eye." We also appreciate the stories that members and guests shared of their own forays into meditation and mindfulness, both in the larger group discussion and in the smaller conversational breakaways that followed.
The next salon evening takes place on Thursday, March 10th at 7:30pm, and has as its theme our personal codes of ethics as they link to symbolism and heraldry. We will be designing our own coats of arms...If you already have a family coat of arms, why not bring it along. We will be Skyping in a member who lives in Scotland, Kim Nicoll, who has done a fair amount of research into Scottish heraldry. This is yet another experiment in conversation - this time, a trans-Atlantic exchange via Skype technology. This technology might well allow us to create face-to-face dialogue across thousands of miles, but it doesn't get rid of the five hour time difference between us and the UK. Please try to arrive five to ten minutes early for this one, as Kim will be joining our salon evening at 12:30am her time and we don't want to keep her waiting too much!