I Know What I Know

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Ugh. I must work through this difficult section of the dissertation. See, here’s the deal:

I’m working on a poem from 1851 that tells the story of a young nun who is lured away from her life in the convent by a wounded soldier she treats. Once she’s out there, she realizes that she’s made a horrible decision, and as she gradually wastes away (as conventional fallen woman narratives dictate), she makes her way back to the convent to die. She is so altered by her experiences that she goes unrecognized upon returning.

However—and this is where things get interesting—she learns that the Virgin Mary herself has taken her place at the convent, and so noone knows anything about her fall. She re-occupies her place, and everything goes just fine until she reveals her secret on her deathbed.

The moral? Regardless of how far we fall, “our place is kept” in heaven. The real point? We need to accept these people back into the fold without treating them like a social pariah, since that often exacerbates an already horrifyingly bad situation (remember, this is 1851).

So here’s where I am, and here’s why I’m stuck:

Yes, she is accepted back into the community with apparently no fallout. But that “total” reclamation requires a kind of miraculous conpiracy to effect. In addition, when she reveals her story (and deception) to her fellow nuns, she effectively reinscribes the fallen woman narrative that the intercession of the BVM had made possible.

There are, of course, some issues with identity and agency here. Since this is miraculous, how many people are we talking about? Which “Sister Angela” is the “real” one? Can they co-exist? The poem would seem to suggest that they can’t. The poem seems to insist that the fallen woman narrative is inescapable. Indeed, one of the things about the poem is that the narrative gets revealed through a series of flashbacks. So it begins with the speaker looking at a painting and remembering something that a guy in France told her about a legend of the area. So all of this is a dramatic monologue, which carries with it all kinds of problems, since they tend to be tricky little beasts.

What am I trying to say here? Just this: this poem, despite its best intentions, plays out the failure of its own argument. Yes, the woman can be reclaimed spiritually. But even the poem cannot let go of the fallen woman narrative that defines her, and even takes part in the proliferation of that narrative.

I don’t know. I’m stuck. Grr. And this is only page 8 (of 26…I’m editing). But it’s a pretty important part of the argument.

Wow. “So Lonely” by the Police just came on the rotation in iTunes. What a cool song….

Back to work, back to work.

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Written by srogers

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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