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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Journey to Montreal; Dorothy Day 
6th-Nov-2009 11:15 pm
Chicago: Signature Room Night Skyline
Sooo wiped out. I arrived at 9pm to my hotel across from the convention center where the American Academy of Religion annual meeting is being held in Montreal, after leaving my Milwaukee apartment at 6:30am. It's been a long day. I just ate some room service food and I'm about ready to keel over. That said, though, I did enjoy the travel in many ways. My schedule has just been so busy that, even though I was being carted around the country, I felt like I sat down and was still through this day more than I have been in a long time. I worked my way through the AAR schedule for the first time, checking out sessions I might like to attend, if I can get much time away from interviews at the Job Center. Looking out the window while coming in to land at LaGuardia, I saw Lady Liberty and Manhattan for the first time since flying down the Hudson to transfer at Newark on my way back from Ireland in April 1999. I also saw part of the grounds of the 1939 World's Fair, which totally took me by surprise. Sitting in LaGuardia, waiting an hour and a half for my flight to Montreal (after an earlier four hour layover at O'Hare, the monotony of which was only broken up by a payphone call to Sophie [who nodded, apparently, more than talked], Leslie and Mom), I realized that that was my first time actually being in New York City, although I'm inclined to say it doesn't count, since I didn't actually get outside.

Cleaning out my jacket pockets of old oddments of paper, I found a flyer I had been handed with my ticket for Over The Rhine last month, and had never really seen. I was utterly dismayed to discover that last Sunday, The Swell Season played the Pabst Theatre. The Swell Season are Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the duo from the incredible film Once, which I wrote about some months back. Seeing their show would have made a good dual birthday present for Dan and Amy, Amy having gifted me with the DVD for my own birthday, some time after I had shown them my borrowed copy of the film. Anyway. Arg! Double Arg!

Starting from my departure from O'Hare, I then worked my way through the latest issue of Commonweal, the 85th anniversary issue, which was perfectly engaging. There were great book reviews to read (Eamon Duffy's latest, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor, sounds fascinating, and I was almost equally intrigued by Theodore Ziolkowski's Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief. The article entitled "The Tightrope: Loyalty, Independence & the Catholic Press," by John Wilkins former editory of the London Tablet, was perhaps the best thing I've read on the need for an independent Catholic press.

Sidney Callahan wrote a column about a 1973 letter from Dorothy Day which she had recently re-discovered while cleaning out her old files while moving. There was a passage quoted I found fascinating, because of certain heretic suspicions I've been harbouring the last few years. Although I was raised in a household headed by a strong woman, making me assume that ideas like "equal pay for equal work" were just matters of simple justice and common sense, and although my education had me take the arguments of ideological feminism as equally simple matters-of-fact, I have increasingly come to suspect that feminism as a school of thought caused very little of the women's revolution of the 20th century, no matter how much it took credit for it. (Not unlike the Enlightenment philosophers virtually taking credit for the scientific revolution.) The more I look at social history, the more the worldwide shift in the status and opportunities for women seems to me to have been driven by the technological shifts in the 20th century. Thus my interest to read Day, who lived through all this as a most exceptional and aware woman, write, inviting Callahan to come to New York and speak on women's lib:
I feel badly at seeing formerly happy women friends, bitter and angry at all they have suddenly discovered they have suffered. And they get angry for me for not being angry.... Isn't anger a sin?
The women's history I have been particularly working on (and may design a course regarding) is medieval women's history, as background to looking at medieval women mystics, like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen, and Catherine of Siena. Reading the great French medievalist Regine Pernoud, I was struck by how far the status of women had come by the High Middle Ages, and how much of that was quickly lost in early modernity with the embrace of Roman legal codes out of the Renaissance. But I was equally struck by Pernoud's accounts of contemporary women's resistance to these facts, and the realization that the ideological articulation of feminism in the later 20th century was willing to effectively denigrate actual women's history in order to preserve its own personal narrative as the ideological liberator of women. That's all too sweeping and over-stated, I'm sure, but that sort of thing was the first real insight that I had into 1960s-1970s feminism as not just a political or social movement, but as an ideological narrative. Of course, there is no single "feminism" any more, but it is interesting to see in Day a woman who was very much at the "cutting edge" of anything like the 20th century's movement for social justice for women, but who also recognized that period's feminist narrative as a particular narrative and declined to just sign off on the whole of it in the way most people did. Anyway, I'm so interested in the way ideas do drive events that I have to be extra-careful to watch for these other kinds of causal components in history.

Coming into Montreal, the city was all lite up, with the high-rise downtown impressively glowing like all big cities at night. I saw Saint Joseph's Oratory, all solemn and subdued on the far side of the big hill in the center of town, and remembered Chris Cox, CSC telling me my first stories of Brother Andre, back during my first year at Notre Dame, walking over to Moreau Seminary after a football game. I don't think I'll be able to make it over there, but it would be kind of flooring to see the walls lined with crutches and wheelchairs and all the tangible remains of people gifted with all the strange healings reported in his company.

Off to bed. Amen.
7th-Nov-2009 02:05 pm (UTC)
Stephen R Sanchez commented on your note "Personal/Theological Notebook: Journey
to Montreal; Dorothy Day":

"An American academy in Canada?"

To see the comment thread, follow the link below:
7th-Nov-2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
I imagine you saw part of the grounds of both the 1939 and 1964 Worlds Fairs, as they were in the same place. Some of the buildings remain from the 1939 fair, though most of the big structures (like the Unisphere) are from 1964.

Also, flying into LaGuardia is fun since you get a good view of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx in the process. Depending where you fly in from, incoming flights to both LGA and JFK go directly over my neighborhood in Brooklyn as well.

Edited at 2009-11-07 02:31 pm (UTC)
7th-Nov-2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that about the 1964 Fair. Nor that I was so close to you: I should have told you to come by the airport and entertain me!
7th-Nov-2009 02:35 pm (UTC)
I, for one, am immensely grateful to the (continually developing) body of feminism, and the writing of feminists (particularly the angry ones), for convincing me of the possibility of perceiving myself as a Person, and acting as one, with moral responsibility, in a world where my opportunities and choices are constrained in such a way that, in many situations, the good or desirable option is completely inaccessible.
That said, honest and open understanding of "actual women's history" (which my story is a subset of) is essential. Erasure is a classic tool of the patriarchy, and for feminists to employ it ourselves is not in our best interest.
7th-Nov-2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
That kind of thing always seems a (perhaps inevitable) aspect of initial articulations of new philosophical movements: sweeping pronouncements followed by qualification and more nuanced analysis.
7th-Nov-2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
I don't understand how that applies here. The initial articulations were done in the first wave, and were fairly moderate. We retained the vote, but much of the accumulated evidence of women being competent contributors to art, academia, and public life got Erased and ignored. The Radicals of the second wave were later, and their contributions are an essential part of the ongoing effort toward cultural recognition of the Personhood of women, and its implications, including making rape, for instance, not so common that its threat governs many choices women make.
7th-Nov-2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
I guess what I never got around to saying is that, of course there's history, the medieval material you cite being an important part of it, of women acting as Persons, because we are, and have always have been. And, occasionally, there's history of men treating women as persons, but (Teresa of Avila's experience being a dramatic example) that is truly rare. But the articulation of that feminist idea as such, that women are persons, is the ideological shift. And the radical expression of it we saw in the 70s wasn't so much the excess of an initial articulation (even if portions of it expressed itself as such), it was accumulated dismay at the cultural rejection of its initial articulation a century before, as far as I can tell in the reading I've done on the topic.
8th-Nov-2009 10:07 am (UTC)
This I would have to think about more, as I'm not sure I could agree that there was a blanket denial of female personhood. Perhaps it's more of the question of what I think is phrased as the full personhood of women? I think that that might be talking more about the cultural shift away from the economic and social "division of labour" I mentioned a minute ago, as the old divisions between private and public spheres in life, and the male dominance of the public sphere gave way. But, to speak multiculturally, just because other or earlier cultures defined men and women as different kinds of persons, with different social roles, I don't know that I would want to so quickly write that off as a denial of female personhood as such. That's where I thought the irony of Day's response was telling.

This is exactly one of those points where I have to ask the awkward question of whether, in assessing the whole of women's experience in this way, we are expressing a moral point of universal scope, along the lines of Natural Law, or whether such a reading of other cultures becomes the latest version of Western imposition of its cultural perspective upon other cultures. I'm inclined toward the first option, but I'm a Christian with such an idea of an objective universal moral order accessible by reason. From a more secularist multicultural perspective, it seems to me that, to be consistent, I would have to relativize even my own perspective as a Western European cultural construct and be cautious about using that as a tool for assessing other cultures throughout time and space.
8th-Nov-2009 09:47 am (UTC)
That's fair: I was thinking of later 20th century feminism in isolation from the 19th century first wave. But I'm still not sure whether I would believe that the status of women changed so much in the 20th century because second wave radicalism agitated for it, and created new ideological structures that caused it, or whether I think that the second wave was more a symptom of changes happening for more "organic" anthropological reasons as the huge technological shift of the century made the traditional "division of labour" no longer a matter of subsistence or survival for families. My impression is that you are dead-on when you point to the second wave as having drawn attention to issues like rape and domestic violence against women as far more epidemic than anyone had ever acknowledged, and pressing hard for increasing and explicit legal securities in those directions. Does that make sense? I'm just wondering about historical issues of causality more than anything else, and the change in the status of women in the 20th century seems a lot more of a "chicken and egg" conflation or simultaneity of causes rather than solely as the result of a new ideological construction.
(Deleted comment)
8th-Nov-2009 10:17 am (UTC)
And yet I remember – and this was an eye-opening experience for me in starting to perceive some of the internal contradictions of feminism as I had been taught it – your struggle with deciding whether to leave your career during the early years of raising the girls. You were on the early edge of that movement or moment of women coming of age in the aftermath of the 1960s/70s generation and feminist articulations, who were stuck within the contradiction of being told that a woman can choose anything and yet were also being (at least tacitly) told that the choice to concentrate on family was unworthy of a modern woman. I get the impression that that issue has largely been worked out in feminist discourse, but it certainly was a tension for a while there, despite all the academic research pointing toward the critical impact of an active mother or parent during early childhood. The idea that anything that looked "traditional" was unworthy of a liberated woman, and watching you struggle with that, was one of those moments that started to get me thinking that there was a lot more going on ideologically in the feminism we were taught than the straightforward issues of justice like equal pay for equal work and the like.
8th-Nov-2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, but in this case, my frustration was more with the "feminist" view of me as settling or giving in - rather than "man putting me in some role". Chad brought up a good point with me on this topic. He pointed out that maybe my lack of anger has more to do with my relationship with Christ, for in him I am already liberated and free. Of course one has to believe that truth and then carry it out, walk it out, however you'd like to say it. But I thought he had a good point. Other point he made related to that, is that a follower of Christ, I am also not my own. I view myself as his and his servant, thus also freeing my from "undo" bondage put on me by the world. Hum...just thoughts.
8th-Nov-2009 10:22 am (UTC)
Jeff Rakús commented on your note "Personal/Theological Notebook: Journey to
Montreal; Dorothy Day":

"Have a great safe trip! Wish I could be in Canada too."

To see the comment thread, follow the link below:
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