Monday, October 24, 2005

Personal Essay Class, Week Six

For tonight's class we were to read two essays, "The Knife" by Richard Selzer and "Late Victorians" by Richard Rodriguez. I found "The Knife" to be disturbing and not just because it is a surgeon's perspective on wielding a scalpel. There are some poetic moments in this essay, beautiful descriptions of organs "It [the liver] laps over the pink sweep of the stomach, from whose lower border the gauzy omentum is draped, and through which veil one sees, sinuous, slow as just-fed snakes, the indolent coils of the intestine." In spite of the beautiful language, however, I could not help but feel ultimately violated. Knives do violate, knives are aggressive, but in this essay which moves between the "I" of Selzer's personal biography and the the third-person perspective of the knife, the knife and the hand that holds the knife is clearly male. This wouldn't be so disturbing if the one being cut was not at times so decidely female, "Deeper still, and the womb is touched, then held like a small muscular bottle--the womb and its earlike appendages, the ovaries. How they do nestle in the cup of a man's hand, thier power dormant. They are frailty itself." And then toward the end of the essay, "The flesh splits with its own kind of moan. It is like the penetration of rape." This essay made me feel sick and dirty and left me hoping that I will never ever have to subject myself to surgery especially by a surgeon the likes of Selzer. "Late Victorians" was very different. Rodriguez is a gay man in San Francisco and the essay is about the Victorian house renaissance that gay men helped to start. He examines why it is that gay men decorate themselves and their homes, "Feminists, with whom I include lesbians--such was the inclusiveness of the feminist movement--were preoccupied with career, with escape from the house in order to create a sexually democratic city. Homosexual men sought to reclaim the house, the house that traditionally had been the reward for heterosexuality, with all its selfless taks and burdens." An interesting perspective I never really thought about. Just that idea alone has so many nuances and so many potential points of contention and room for exploration. While I wanted to stab Selzer with his own knife, I'd love to sit down and chat away an afternoon with Rodriguez. I am looking forward to hearing what the others in class thought of these essays. The writing assignment that went along with the reading this week was to write about an object or image dear to you and from which you could draw multiple meanings. I wrote about a basketball hoop which to me means enjoyment, desire, gender discrimination, parental betrayal and loss of innocence.