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Ethics of Creation: Copy of the Copy: Sons’ Narratives of Feeling of Selfhood

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Abstract

In narratives of the family romance, less has be written about the romance of the son with the father. After all, aren’t sons out to conquer and kill off their fathers, literally or metaphorically? Such a reduction is challenged by a diverse array of modern and contemporary narratives across cultural and ethnic boundaries. In this chapter, I will analyze how Indigenous, African American, white American, Irish, British, French, and Russian narratives in prose and film relate to sociological and psychoanalytic concepts of the filial identity and relations, including affects and ethics, particularly to the father and mother. The narratives are sorted into three groups: (i) those emphasizing a son’s identification with his father; (ii) those emphasizing a son’s difference from his father; (iii) and finally those doing both, or presenting these relations more ambiguously.

And I even crawled on my back, plunging my crutches blindly behind me into the thickets, and with the black boughs for sky to my closing eyes. I was on my way to mother . And from time to time I said, Mother , to encourage me I suppose.

—Samuel Beckett, Molloy, 84.

 – Yes, father?

 – Is your lazy bitch of a brother gone out yet?

 – Yes, father.

 – […] The girl came back making signs to him to be quick and go out quietly by the back. Stephen laughed and said:

 – He has a curious sense of genders if he thinks a bitch is masculine.

—James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 158.

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Fig. 3.1
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Fig. 3.4

Notes

  1. 1.

    Jansz identifies four main features of contemporary masculinity (noting his studies draw from those with white heterosexual middle-class subjects, for lack of extant research on broader and more diverse social groups): autonomy, achievement, aggression, and stoicism (166): “The stoic attribute amounts to a strict control of pain, grief, and vulnerable feelings. […] male stoicism generally leads to restrictive emotionality: most men are reluctant to disclose intimate feelings, and they also inhibit the expression of their emotions, with anger as the proverbial exception to the rule. The third step in my argument is concerned with the dysfunctional nature of restrictive emotionality: the inhibition of (tender) feelings has a negative impact on men’s health. […] With restrictive emotionality […] the general inhibition of emotions among men is not “given” in men’s nature, but rather the result of a lack of practice” (166–67).

  2. 2.

    Ferguson and Eyre discuss how their own study suggests that men in some circumstances may feel more shame than women; it could be that previous studies articulated scenarios of shame that would relate more to women’s situations. About their study, they write, “College men and women evaluated the original TOSCA scenarios, as well as new scenarios that we knew represented a greater unwanted identity for males than females (e.g., being physically weak, career-related failures, crying in front of others). Males responded with more shame than females to the situations depicting the negative male identities. In fact, the gender reversal for shame in response to male unwanted identities was much greater than has been shown previously using procedures that prime mostly female unwanted identities. These results are not surprising given males’ relatively greater sensitivity than females’ to violations of gender-role standards (e.g., Levy and Fivush 1993). They also convincingly demonstrate that previous research greatly underestimates males’ proneness to shame” (Ferguson and Eyre, p. 268).

  3. 3.

    Joanna Hearne brilliantly interprets this scene and the multi-layered sonic motifs that director Eyre plays with: “The song itself resembles not so much powwow as ‘49’ style singing, the informal drumming and singing at parties that take place on the margins of powwows in parking lots and campsites after the more formal events of the powwow are over. In the two sound bridges of this final bus scene in Smoke Signals, an Irish folk tune that became associated with the imperialist campaigns of the U.S. military is appropriated by an Indigenous vocal group (Ulali), and the figure of John Wayne is deconstructed through music that, as Alexie asserts, ‘is a combination of English lyrics and Western musical rhythms along with Indian vocables and Indian traditional drums.’ Told to ‘find yourselves someplace else to have a powwow,’ Victor and Thomas do exactly that, transforming the marginalized space of the rear seats into a platform for protest through powwow or ‘49’ music; in the process, they gain the attention of the other bus riders and the driver with the power and volume of their voices” (Hearne, Smoke Signals, p. 131).

  4. 4.

    Alan Sinfield compares the film Billy Elliot with its earlier inspiration, Kes (1969), directed by Ken Loach. Both films set up mining as the occupation that the young male protagonists are determined to avoid. Sinfield complains that Billy Elliot is “unable to frame ballet as a normal male activity.” I would counter that the film (i) tries to capture the strangeness of dance in Billy’s milieu (after all, there simply is no ballet culture outside the girls’ after school classes in his town) and (ii) Billy’s irrepressible free-style dance and movement are portrayed as spontaneous truth in various scenes. Also, classical ballet is a highly stylized form of dance, so no, it would be unreasonable to expect ballet to be presented as “normal”; ballet aims to be extraordinary and sublime. The choice of Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake is an ideal conclusion for the film, also because of the fairy tale implications of becoming a swan, of realizing one’s self.

  5. 5.

    For a more detailed analysis of the political discourses running through this film, see Alderson.

  6. 6.

    Curry has argued that in Black scholarship there is a resistance to exploring Black masculinity in terms of Black men’s vulnerability and victimization. He points out, “By articulating the vulnerability Black men have faced at the hands of white civilization—the sexual, economic, and racial exploitation they have suffered at the hands of white men and women—it becomes easier to see that the violence Black males have suffered exceeds the disciplinary category of masculinity” (42). Black writers such as Ellison and filmmakers like Spike Lee (Malcolm X) and Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) all help to portray precisely this excessive injustice.

  7. 7.

    “Military-industrial complex” is a term devised by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell speech to the nation when he warned of the contemporary Cold War scene and the government’s and university’s vulnerability to the influence of money and the military: “Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

  8. 8.

    In the shooting script of Moonlight, this pivotal moment is made even more explicit when the final scene of Kevin and Chiron coming together involves a bedroom scene in the dark which only provides their voices, intimating their proximity and Chiron’s fear and desire with his repeated statement, “I’m shakin’” (Jenkins, Moonlight, shooting script, p. 97). This extended scene with dialogue is replaced in the actual film with a lighted scene of powerful understatement, with a silent two-shot of Kevin and Chiron seated together and leaning against each other in a relaxed way with no accompanying anxious dialogue.

  9. 9.

    See Evans for a detailed account of how Christian missionaries brought change to older Inuit beliefs and how belief in shamanism persisted, albeit sometimes as a concealed and shameful part of one’s identity. In the filmmakers’ goal of creating a precolonial space for exploration of Inuit identity, there is nonetheless some remnants of the more recent past and colonial influence. The revalorization of shamanism throughout the film clearly raises its ethical and emotional power.

  10. 10.

    Hearne particularly references Edward Curtis’s film In the Land of War Canoes (1911) and Curtis’s general work of collecting images of First Nations people which promoted the myth of the vanishing Indian and the erasure of hybridity and modernity.

  11. 11.

    Relying on Cathy Caruth’s description of dealing with trauma, Jeffers argues, “Beckett copes with emasculation and exile through repetition” (169).

  12. 12.

    Two notable changes in the translation are “frozen” and “sky.” In French, Beckett uses the word “figé,” which means “fixed” or “rooted to the spot.” His use of “frozen” adds some tonality and naturalism, while keeping the brevity of “figé.” In English he uses “sky,” while in French it is the more general “jour” (day, emphasizing weather).

  13. 13.

    Cf. bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004), for an extended exploration of young Black men and coolness.

  14. 14.

    “Pick Poor Robin Clean” is a 1927 blues gambling song written and recorded by the African American Luke Jordan: for the lyrics, see http://www.mikeballantyne.ca/transcriptions_cd/pickpoor_robin.php. In Invisible Man, in the narrator’s memory, the song chanted by Black children in the schoolyard gets inflected with the sense of Blacks together with whites cheating other Blacks.

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Mooney, S. (2022). Ethics of Creation: Copy of the Copy: Sons’ Narratives of Feeling of Selfhood. In: The Making and Mirroring of Masculine Subjectivities. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-99146-3_3

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