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Re: [xmca] Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot

"Gone With the Wind" is a good example to think with, but I think it's not an example of the kind of empathetic ability to ventriloquate that we see in Gaskell's ability to articulate John Barton's motives and embrace him as a man and as a father as well as as the killer of another man's son.
"Gone With the Wind", along with "Birth of a Nation", was a very successful and very subtle example of fascist mass propaganda. It was created consciously and deliberately to promote the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK is the "secret organization" that Ashley and Rhett join, the "party" which carries out the revenge after Scarlett is "threatened", and their revenge is, of course, simply a mass lynching. Of course, it was also the organization immortalized in "The Klansman", which forms the basis of "Birth of a Nation", a movie which Woodrow Wilson personally promoted. (Lenin was so fascinated and horrified by this film that he insisted that Soviet cinema study and learn how to counter it.)
I think the fact that both works were largely cinematic in the form that they were most widely disseminated is significant, and it's related to the point that Mike was making just now about the huge difference between Gaskell's written work and the rather silly versions cinematic versions. It's also related to the ability of Mitchell to imitate (but NOT to ventriloquate) the dialects of slaves. 
Colin MacCabe argues that George Eliot created a kind of "hierarchy of discourses" where the narrator (the one who remarks on the general truths of life, such as the fact that those who do most to improve it rest in unvisited tombs, and that we are all apt to consider our own amiability before we consider the actual consequences of our actions) is an absolute authority, a kind of dematerialized consciousness, like the fourth wall on a stage or like a movie camera.
MacCabe is right that the nineteenth century realist novel is supremely cinematic, in a way that the makers of the film versions of Gaskell's works fully recognize: it links action, and word, and even facial expression in a hierarchical (and non-redundant) way that makes all three of them stand out perspectivally. But he's wrong about the way in which the MENTAL plane is rendered in nineteenth century fiction.
Transparent is exactly what George Eliot's prose is not. The narrator is is a mediator between consciousnesses, including that of the author and reader. No movie camera can take us into the mental plane of Dorothea or Mr. Brooke; no movie camera can show us verbal thinking in its verbal form, and make explicit parallels with our own thoughts. But the "quasi-direct discourse" that Eliot uses to generalize their thoughts to our own is perfectly capable of doing this.
Movies rely on perception where novels require a kind of self-directed egocentric speech, or rather a kind of other-originated inner speech. It's true, it's a very well elaborated written form; the voice that you hear in your head when you are reading. But it's still inner speech, and as such it can be placed in a direct (that is, a dialogic) relationship to our own verbal thoughts.
The problem with Mitchell's prose is really the same as the problem of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (and the FAR too pretty actors and actresses we are given in the cinematic versions of Gaskell's works). Mitchell is capable of giving us the form of slave language but not the content of slave thinking (compare to the work of Frederick Douglass, which gives us the content but not the form). 
We see this ever so clearly in the movie version. When Mammy is talking to Scarlett and tightening her corset, what we get is not Mammy's thoughts and feelings, but only her words in blackface; Mammy is a stage prop, a piece of taking furniture. 
The problem is that movies are particularly good at doing this. I think that's why Eisenstein was so horrified at their power and worked so very hard to make us SEE the spots on the camera lens. I think it's also why Vygotsky preferred to write about the stage instead. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 

--- On Fri, 11/26/10, Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, November 26, 2010, 6:16 AM

Wikipedia continues to amaze me.  Now one doesn't "Google it" -- now we look
in Wikipedia.  Thanks for all that information--it makes sense now.

On 26 November 2010 16:07, smago <smago@uga.edu> wrote:

> According to the Wikipedia entry at
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Mitchell:
> Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, to Eugene Mitchell, a
> lawyer, and Mary Isabelle, much referred to as Maybell, a suffragist of
> Irish Catholic origin. Mitchell's brother, Stephens, was four years her
> senior. Her childhood was spent in the laps of Civil War veterans and of her
> maternal relatives, who had lived through the Civil War.
> She was born in Georgia in 1900, 35 years following the end of the Civil
> War, and so I'm sure was exposed to accents little different from those of
> slaves, given that living conditions for southern blacks still left them in
> segregated communities that no doubt preserved speech genres and social
> languages.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
> Behalf Of Carol Macdonald
> Sent: Friday, November 26, 2010 8:56 AM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot
> Because I am confined to bed, I have plenty of time to read, and have found
> that Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind, first read when I was 13)can do
> slave English so well that I often have to read a sentence twice to get the
> meaning. Where would she have got that talent?  She surely had no living
> exemplars?
> Carol
> On 26 November 2010 05:37, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com> wrote:
> > Perhaps it is not so amazing that Gaskell understands the pretenses of
> > genteel poverty. She had four daughters, and a husband who was a
> Unitarian
> > minister and not particularly good at making money. So it was her
> practice
> > to buy cloth at an expensive store, have it professionally cut, and then
> > teach her daughters to sew their own "store-bought" clothes.
> >
> > But the really amazing thing is how she writes, from the inside, about
> > real, working class poverty, hunger, starvation, disease, death...and
> > violent revenge. In 1847 Gaskell lost her only son to typhoid fever while
> on
> > holiday in Wales. Her husband advised her to take up novel-writing as a
> > distraction.
> >
> > He probably regretted it. The novel she wrote, "Mary Barton", was so
> > clearly sympathetic to Chartism and even communism that her husband's
> > parishioners burned it publically and her best friends wrote withering
> > reviews (Marx and Engels, on the other hand, said we learn more about the
> > condition of the working class from her than from any number of works of
> > political economy).
> >
> > Sure enough although there are many, many deaths, mostly of working class
> > children. But there is only one portrayal of a middle class character who
> > has lost a son: a cruel, tight-fished mill owner called Mr. Carson. And
> it's
> > John Barton, the heroine's father, who is the murderer on a mission from
> an
> > illegal trade union, in revenge for the son's strike-breaking
> > activities. John Barton is, as Gaskell said, "the character with whom all
> my
> > sympathies went"; Gaskell originally wanted to call the novel "John
> Barton"
> > and was persuaded not to by the publisher.
> >
> > Raymond Williams remarks on this miracle of empathy:
> >
> > "It is significant that the creator of John Barton, 'The person with whom
> > all our sympathies went', drew back, under pressure from her publishers
> and
> > in her own understandable uncertainties, from full imaginative
> > identification with the act of conscious violence against an oppressor:
> the
> > explicit and untypical expression of the power of a new working class
> > organization. But that she can enter as far as she does into a world of
> > necessary class consciousness, while never losing touch with the
> individual
> > people who are forced by systematic exploitation to learn this new way of
> > thinking, is profoundly impressive and is a true mark of radical change.
> > (219) "
> >
> > Raymond Williams, The Country and The City
> >
> >
> > Now, of course, neither John Barton nor Elizabeth Gaskell can be said to
> > have "radically changed" the actual social conditions that "Mary Barton"
> > describes. But Gaskell really did change the novel forever: she was the
> > first person, LONG before Mark Twain, to do a systematic LINGUISTIC study
> of
> > working class dialects and to try to write in them. And she was also the
> > first to use the "conversations" of domestic fiction to write about
> > non-domestic issues, a technique she perfects in her revisitation of the
> > industrial themes, "North and South".
> >
> > Shortly before she died, she was accused of writing another book under
> the
> > pseudonym George Eliot. She a note to the real author joking that it was
> a
> > shame to leave so much brilliance uncredited and so much credit
> unclaimed,
> > so the next time the book was credited to her she would accept the credit
> > with pride
> >
> > Mysteriously, she signed the letter "Gilbert Eliot". I always assumed
> that
> > Gilbert was the mischievous twin brother of George, but now I think the
> > relationship was one of fairly direct paternity.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Seoul National University of Education
> >
> > --- On Thu, 11/25/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >
> > From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> > Subject: [xmca] Reflexive, culturally mediated, sociality
> > To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> > Date: Thursday, November 25, 2010, 8:32 AM
> >
> >
> > Some time back Larry and others were focused on primal sociality in
> highty
> > coordinated
> > interactions. Even longer ago, David Kel suggested that we read Elizabeth
> > Gaskell. Wow,
> > was he ever right! Amazing.
> >
> > I recently read a scene set about, say, 1840's rural England. Gaskell
> > depicts poor folks maintaining
> > a traditional, ostensibly prosperous, life world in the face of the
> coming
> > pressures of industrialization. In this scene,
> > a woman is having a party. As befits her situation, at the high point of
> > the
> > festivities she is
> > seated comfortably in a special spot of honor and attention, but in small
> > ways, the author
> > has told us about all the hard work she has done to make this
> > accomplishment
> > "pass" as
> > an expression of her genteel accomplishments in life. The author ends the
> > description of this
> > event by writing that the hostess "who now sat in state, pretending not
> to
> > know what cakes were
> > sent up, though she knew, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she
> > knew that we
> > knew, she had been busy all morning making tea-bread and sponge-cake."
> >
> > There, I think we have a beautiful description of culturally mediated,
> > reflexive, community and
> > the degree of intertwining that deep reflexivity seems to promote. The
> > Gaskell novels I have read
> > all excel at providing an almost micro-ethnographic sense of the richness
> > of
> > feeling/experience
> > within small, mostly face to face, English, communities.
> > And consistent with the picture that Larry is seeking to fill out.
> >
> > mike
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