Casting a Net for Reflection
Belated notes après beach and back into real life, however I always wonder which one is madder (the juggler on a unicycle on a tightrope between two high rises must ask themselves, but where would I be if things were not so ordinary?)
The Selkie (or Silkie) is a mythological creature of North Scotland, Ireland and Iceland and is a seal that shapeshifts into human form so that it can come on to the land to (essentially) find a lover. The seal shapeshifts to its human form by the removal of its skin. Predominant folklore is of women Selkies but there are stories of male Selkies whom land-based girls allegedly cannot resist. In some communities it was said that if a woman disappeared for a time then this is where she was. One supposed root of the Selkie myth is said to come from the Sammi community in Finland and to be derived from the Finfolk, which were a more malevolent type of being much like the shadowy figures of death. The Selkie in Scottish folklore however is a more kindly soul but still mischievous, and thus was used as an explanation or a scapegoat for wrongdoings, human strangeness or characteristics passed down from generation to generation. The most common story is of the woman Selkie whose skin was taken by the human man, this meant that she could not return to the sea. She bore children to him and looked after him but if she found her skin she returned to the water. She however loyally watched over him and her children from the shallows, protecting him and assuring him a good catch of fish when out at sea.
The aim is to make a short film about the Selkies. First thoughts are the removal of the contrived notions of what a Selkie is (see drawings). Why were they were integrated into community life? We can see in ‘The Tales of the Sea People’ a book of travelers tales gathered by Duncan Williamson, that the selkie as such was sometimes not even mentioned in these stories, but remained as a background figure, a suggestion, an illusive entity that explained some bizarre occurrence or coincidence in nature. For example the fact that a couple lived by the sea in a shell-covered cottage, and that they got married in matching long coats, was explained in a suggestive circumvention of words, a list of out of the ordinary facts that suggested an ‘other’ type of life rather than an actual logical reason.
However in current ideology, perhaps fuelled by the film ‘The Secret of Roan Inish’, the Selkie is again portrayed as a romanticised story, illustrating a woman whose husband to be steals her skin and is thus trapped by both her physical body and by her loyalty to her husband and family. According to Irigary, ‘if ethical relationships are to occur between men and women, men must overcome nostalgia for the womb’. On several levels this particular myth of the Selkie is illustrative of the predominant worldview at that time (around the 1920’s) where women, even though they could vote, were still looked upon as the property of the man. Thus their bodies were also property, as sex objects and as producers of the next generation, the workers of the family croft. The Selkie enveloped all of the desirable characteristics that would enable a man to be happy in his family life, a lover, a productive womb, a homemaker, a woman that always could provide food. The man however remained in control… as long as he had the skin, the identity, the ability to express. The un-understandable qualities of woman, her difference to man and his inability to express this were all defined in the illusiveness of the Selkie; the seal inside a woman, the woman inside a seal, representing the mutable description of the undescribable. This specific story of the woman Selkie being kept by the husband now appears to be the stereotype or default story. It is interesting to note that this main stereotype story of the woman Selkie is of a ‘kept’ soul; whereas the more unheard of male Selkie was an irresistible illusion that was indefinitely wanted, but could never be kept.
How did this stereotype come about? Perhaps with the breaking up of rural local communities in recent decades by (mainly) economical factors, the role of certain oral narratives as a way of explaining natural phenomena has become fragmented. Without a close-knit community that has a generational social history, the living myth ceases to exist and is replaced by a memory that stereotypes itself through the re-telling of a tale through the eyes of others unrelated to the elements, the sea and the land. The object (the seal, the skin, the woman) thus becomes the myth rather than the circumstance of its inception. This object that is objectified into a worldview alien to its roots thus becomes separated from its place in a system of explanation, and the interweaving of threads to form a fabric is lost within an isolation of individual parts. The solitary thread exposed out-with its own space and time, now becomes a symbol rather than a meaning.
SealEdge: The prototype film to be filmed again
She argues that Freud could not understand women because he was influenced by the one-sex theory of his time (men exist and women are a variation of men), and expanded his own, male experience of the world into a general theory applicable to all humans. According to Irigaray, since Freud was unable to imagine another perspective, his reduction of women to male experience resulted in viewing women as defective men.
Irigaray believes that if women are not understood in Western culture, it is because Western culture has yet to accept alternate paradigms for understanding them.
Irigaray is more concerned with how culture-and language as a product of culture-understands sexual difference and subjectivity than with arguing that truths about sexual difference or subjectivity emerge out of biology itself.
Irigaray believes that language systems are malleable, and largely determined by power relationships that are in flux.
Further, she believes that she cannot describe the feminine (e.g. female subjectivity, the female imaginary body) outside of the current, male definitions without further disrupting the male definitions of women. A new definition for women has to emerge out of a mimetic engagement with the old definitions, and it is a collective process.
Irigaray follows Feuerbach in interpreting the divine as an organizing principle for both identity and culture. Religion is thus viewed as caught up in power and culture. Irigaray specifically targets male dominated religions that posit a transcendental God. She believes that these religions reinforce male dominance and the division of the world into male/subject and female/body.
Irigaray believes that myths tell us something about the deterioration of the mother/daughter relationship and the manner in which men have traditionally controlled the fate of women-whether they are wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers. Irigaray utilizes myth to suggest that mothers and daughters need to protect their relationships and strengthen their bonds to one another.
Mimesis is a process of resubmitting women to stereotypical views of women in order to call the views themselves into question. Key to mimesis is that the stereotypical views are not repeated faithfully. One example is that if women are viewed as illogical, women should speak logically about this view. According to Irigaray, the juxtaposition of illogical and logical undermines the claim that women are illogical. Or if women's bodies are viewed as multiple and dispersed, women should speak from that position in a playful way that suggests that this view stems from a masculine economy that values identity and unity (e.g. the penis or the Phallus) and excludes women as the other (e.g. lack, dispersed, or "nothing to see"). This type of mimesis is also known as strategic essentialism. Irigaray's essay "This Sex Which Is Not One," in the text of the same name, provides several clear examples of this method.
Irigaray's response to first changing material conditions would be that it would leave the question of a non-patriarchal view of female identity untouched. Due to the force of the oppression of women, it is the definitions that have to be changed before women, as distinct from men, will attain a social existence.
Irigaray not only will not assume the position of a master-knower who imparts knowledge in a linear manner, she also considers her readers' reactions to her work to be an integral part of that work. Her alleged failure to be clear, or to give a concrete, linear feminist theory, are invitations for readers to imagine their own vision for the future. Like the psychoanalytic session, her texts are a collaboration between writer (analyst) and reader (analysand).