Chapter One: Cognition, Consciousness and Literary Contexts

By Grace, Daphne M. | Consciousness, Literature & the Arts, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Chapter One: Cognition, Consciousness and Literary Contexts


Grace, Daphne M., Consciousness, Literature & the Arts


A female writer, according to Virginia Woolf, traditionally encounters two fundamental problems. The first is the "severe severity" with which men condemn women's behaviour and curtail their freedom to self-expression. She explains the second and more difficult problem as that of: "telling the truth about my own experiences as a body", which "I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet". While questioning why women have "more ghosts to fight" than men, she finds these gender-specific obstacles to be "immensely powerful and yet [...] very difficult to define" (1931/1993: 8).

The gendered body continues to be one of the most controversial preoccupations of the modem age, and the ability to "tell the truth" of the body perplexes many feminists and women today, just as it did Virginia Woolf. In today's world, "writing the body" and "righting the body" could be synonymous, both in terms of academic preoccupations with gender and individual rights to self-determination of sexuality-yet also in the other meaning of "right" as "correct". In general, bodies (and specific parts of them) can be enlarged, reduced, rejuvenated, altered or replaced. Our societies are obsessed with our bodies: for example, whether the human body should be covered or exposed has taken on transnational political and religious significance to the extent of becoming a controversial issue of global women's rights.

Biological differences appear to determine both gender and consciousness, yet developments in critical theory and modem technology are close to dissolving these notions. The differentiation of male-female roles continues to be eroded while arguments about the apparent biological differences between male and female brains both confirm and problematize the issues. Recent popular books emphasize the "delusion" of gender difference, which usually emphasises the "neurosexism" or "neurononsense" that determine male brains to be superior in understanding and building systems (Fine 2010). Equally irrelevant and misleading, according to Cordelia Fine, are arguments for the unique adaptive superiority of the "female" brain as "a high-performance emotion machine" (see Brizendine 2007: 159). The human brain, Fine argues, is an organ that "remains a vast unknown, a perfect medium on which to project, even unwittingly, assumptions about gender" (2010: xxviii). Fine's text demonstrates the types of overt and subtle discrimination that still exist against women based on the projection of gender role models, both descriptive and prescriptive, that haunts females both at work and in the home (2010: 56-7). In the workplace especially, gender bias triggers hostile discrimination involving "segregation, exclusion, demeaning comments, harassment and attack", all of which are "intentionally and consciously done" (Fine 2010: 68). So far it seems little has progressed in terms of "gender equality" or female inclusion since Woolfs perception of male condemnation, confinement, and control of women almost a century ago.

Gender, literature and consciousness

How is gender relevant to consciousness studies? Can gender influence consciousness, or vice versa? Through an interface of literary theory and the lens of literature, this book will address the possibilities inherent within the dynamics of exploring gender and human consciousness, which will provide a paradigm ultimately addressing such crucial questions.

Consciousness studies in the context of literature are emancipating, drawing upon the widest possible conceptualization of the range of human experience in all its global variations as its fundamental derivation. Thus, while interdisciplinary in many aspects, this book is in essence a work about literature, and how literary imagination can provide insights into the "enigma" of consciousness. Within literary perspectives, identity becomes increasingly a shifting, multiple, and renegotiable concept. In this discussion, consciousness can be posited as the blank backdrop to the stage of performative gender roles as well as the dynamic force of their expression. …

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