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Ovi Symposium; Thirty-ninth Meeting
by Prof. Ernesto Paolozzi
2014-11-24 10:09:39
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Thirty-ninth Meeting: 20 November 2014

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 39:  The Nexus between Philosophy and Literature as the Poetics of Feminism.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages:  Plato, Nietzsche, Sartre, Kristeva, Hegel, Marx, Marleau-Ponty, Tyler, Plath, Mobokov, Oliver, Rich, Duffy, Byatt, Farr, Rilke, Sexton. Basquiat, Warhol, Styron, Hemnigway, Updike, Crawford.

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Table of Contents for the 39th Session of the Ovi Symposium (20 November 2014)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophical Feminism in The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex.” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 2: “Sleeping Woman as a Prophet: an Essay on the Female Poet.” A Presentation by Abigail George.

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

As I prepared this presentation I kept wondering as to how many highly recognized female philosophers there are in Western culture. To satisfy that curiosity, I consulted Wikipedia’s thorough list of women philosophers in Western culture. A total of some one hundred names appeared. This may seem a lot, but it’s not when one considers that Western culture is generally assumed to have begun some two thousand years ago. The average number is merely five women philosophers per century. The greater shock, however, came when I realized that only 13 of those on the Wikipedia list were recognizable to me, in the sense that I had heard about them and had read something written by them. The ones I recognized are as follows (by last name alphabetical order):  Annette Babich (20th century), Simone de Beauvoir (20th century), Catherine of Siena (14th century), Diotima of Martinea (4th century BC as mentioned by Plato), George Eliot (19th century), Heloise (10th century), Hildegard of Bingen (11th century), Iris Murdoch (20th century), Ayn Rand (20th century), Rosemary Ruether (20th century), Edith Stein (20th century), Teresa of Avila (16th century), Simone Weil (20th century).

I then consulted the Wikipedia list of women writers in general (in literature or poetry); I was now served with a much longer list of at least 1000 women (fifty per century). Of those, I recognized one in ten at best. This discovery of sheer ignorance on my part in this matter is of course personally embarrassing, but it is an embarrassment that, I dare say, can prove beneficial to us men when it is frankly acknowledged, to help us fathom how the game of fame and notoriety may have been unfairly fixed and shabbily played by our paternalistic patriarchal male-dominated culture. Unless we wish to proclaim that the lists merely reflect the reality that women are naturally inferior to men, which, come to think of it, is, in fact, what has been proclaimed for some two thousand years of patriarchal culture. It is now politically incorrect to openly admit that fact. Such inhibition may sound like progress of sort, but it is in reality a lack of transparencey surreptitiously hiding behind the curtain the discrimination against women and the so called glass ceiling, impeding their careers, and still persisting in a civilization that considers itself enlightened and proud of its technological prowess.

Indeed, despite the objections of feminists, men remain recalcitrant about admitting women to full equality. They remain in firm control of the reins of power and the means of communications. The reluctance to share them impartially goes a long way in explaining why the myth of women’s natural inferiority must be kept alive.  After all, it is the men who from the very beginning, with the opening of Plato’s Academy in 400 BC, have controlled the West’s intellectual life in the field of philosophy, and, to a lesser degree, that of literature. That in turn explains the systematic and still persistent exclusion of women from those fields of knowledge. We have already touched on the exclusion of African and Asian philosophers from the Western canon in general in the 37th issue of the Symposium. This time around we’d like to focus more on patriarchy, gender discrimination and anti-feminism.

In the first section Emanel L. Paparella briefly surveys the philosophical accomplishments of a modern woman, Simone de Beauvoir, who for a while was considered a mere author and writer but not a bona fide philosopher (some say by her own promotion and admission), a sort of sidekick to Sartre. Lately however, on the anniversary of her birth in 2008, she has finally been included in the canon of female philosophers on her own right, as one who has brilliantly elucidated within modernity the philosophy and the poetics of Feminism, thus greatly increasing her global influence. It bears mentioning, however, that before 2008, she was already an iconic figure of modern feminism. Her late acceptance as a philosopher reinforces that role.

In the second section of this 39th meeting of the Ovi Symposium Abigail George, in a presentation titled “Sleeping woman as a Prophet: an Essay on the Female Poet,” provides us with examples of the bridging of philosophy to literature, bringing an overly abstract philosophical theory of feminism down to earth, so to speak, by poetically narrating particular existential examples of modern feminist speculation and dealing concretely with the role of the female poet in literature and fiction. Overall, with this particular issue of the Ovi Symposium we hope to have modestly contributed to the poetics of modern feminism, one that represents a needed bridge between the two opposite extremes of pure rationalism and pure sentimentalism.

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1
Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophical Feminism:
The Ethics of Ambiguity and The Second Sex

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

 

“Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.”
                                           ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The above quote, also mentioned by Abigail George in her presentation for this meeting of the Ovi symposium, is from a male poet, yet it can be easily characterized as a genuine feminist statement revealing the ultimate goal of feminism. It powerfully suggests that ideas are neither male nor female and that gender has nothing to do with being a good philosopher; in fact one can theorize on gender and sexual differences regardless of one’s embodied sex; all that is needed is our common mind and humanity. After all, the mind has no gender, despite the positing by today’s positivistic materialistic behaviouristic right-brained and left-brained approaches to reality. The mind, in fact, is not a material organ and dwells in the realm of the intelligible, as the ancient Greeks well grasped and taught us.

The ineluctable fact remains, however, that philosophy in the past has been dominated by male philosophers and that may explain why Simone de Beauvoir is one of these belatedly acknowledged female philosophers making the one hundred name list in Wikipedia. She herself at the beginning of her writing career defined herself an author rather than a philosopher by calling herself “the midwife of Sartre's existential ethics”, rather than a thinker in her own right. Perhaps that was a bit too much humility. Later on, however, her place as a female philosopher became uncontested. The international conference celebrating the centennial of Beauvoir's birth organized by the philosopher-linguist and fellow-feminist Julia Kristeva in 2008 is one of the more visible signs of Beauvoir's growing influence and status, so that her enduring contributions to the fields of ethics, politics, existentialism, phenomenology and feminist theory and her significance as an activist and public intellectual is now a fact and a matter of record.

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Julia Kristeva (1941-   ) De Beauvoir’s Fellow-Feminist who
secured De Beauvoir’s place in the pantheon of Western philosophers

To be sure, in 1963 there appeared another influential book written by Betty Friedan, an American feminist, titled The Feminine Mystique which was quickly compared and associated with Simone de Beauvoir’s feminism (and dubbed the second wave) but as one surveys such a book, anybody trained in philosophy will soon detect that Beauvoir’s book is the more perceptive and philosophical work. Rather than empirically list women’s grievances vis a vis a patriarchal society as Friedan does, it offers an in depth analyses of the existentially, universal, socio-psychological disease called misogyny or the degrading of women. Friedan’s analysis instead is less universal and remains at a more superficial level of the mere socio-historical, focusing on a particular place (the US) and a short period of time (the post war period).  

And that is why Beauvoir's position as a feminist theorist, perhaps the very first modern woman philosopher of feminism, has finally been accepted despite the fact that that her The Second Sex's critique of patriarchy was controversial from the start and continues to challenge social, political and religious categories used to justify the alleged inferior status of women's. It bears mentioning that the 2010 translation of this book, is sensitive to the philosophical valence of Beauvoir's writing, thus making it possible for her English readers to understand the existential-phenomenological grounds of her feminist analysis: of the forces that subordinate women to men and designate her as the Other.

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Beauvoir's exclusion from the domain of philosophy is attributable to an exclusively systematic view of philosophy which, deaf to the philosophical methodology of the metaphysical novel, conceives of philosophy and literature as separate hermetically sealed realms, and ignores the varied ways that Beauvoir embedded phenomenological–existential arguments in her literary works. There are of course those who even today have not accepted her understanding of the relationship between literature and philosophy, and thus miss the unique signature of her philosophical essays. For them she remains “just” another writer.

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The Second Sex, recognized as one of the hundred most important works of the twentieth century, was initially not counted as philosophy simply because it dealt with sex, hardly a burning philosophical issue. That is considered to be the province of writers such as T.H. Lawrence, not bona fide philosophers.

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In her memoir The Force of Circumstance, Beauvoir looks back at The Ethics of Ambiguity and auto-criticizes it for being a bit too abstract. To be sure, she does not repudiate the arguments of her previous text, but finds that it erred in trying to define morality independent of a concrete social context. The Second Sex may be read as a correction of that error — as reworking and materially situating the analyses of The Ethics of Ambiguity. Imaginary caricatures are replaced by phenomenological descriptions of real situations of real women.

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Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

Where Beauvoir's earlier works did indeed blur the borders separating philosophy and literature, her later writings disrupt the boundaries between the personal, the political and the philosophical. Now, Beauvoir takes herself, her situation, her embodiment and the situations and embodiments of other women, as the subjects of her philosophical reflections. Autobiography can of course be written in philosophical categories as Vico has well shown in his autobiography where the cycles of history are portrayed by his own personal life cycles.

Whereas The Ethics of Ambiguity conjured up images of ethical and unethical figures to make its arguments tangible, the analyses of The Second Sex are materialized in Beauvoir's experiences as a woman and in women's lived realities. Where The Ethics of Ambiguity speaks of mystification in a general sense, The Second Sex speaks of the specific ways that the natural and social sciences and the European literary, social, political and religious traditions have created a world where impossible and conflicting ideals of femininity produce an ideology of women's “natural” inferiority to justify patriarchal domination. Indeed, Beauvoir finally got it right: it is as embodied beings that we engage in the world. Without considerations of the body, awareness and possibilities for engagement prove elusive, for we are neither angels nor demi-gods. In that sense, like Vico, she was an anti-Cartesian, refusing to make the dichotomy between spirit and body.

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Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre at a Café in Paris

Indeed, before The Second Sex, the sexed/gendered body was not an object of phenomenological investigation. Beauvoir changes all that. Her argument for sexual equality takes two directions. First, it exposes the ways that masculine ideology exploits the sexual difference to create systems of inequality. Second, it identifies the ways that arguments for equality erase the sexual difference in order to establish the masculine subject as the absolute human type. Here Plato is definitely her target. Plato, beginning with the premise that sex is an accidental quality, concludes that women and men are equally qualified to become members of the guardian class. The price of women's admission to this privileged class, however, is that they must train and live like men. In more blunt modern parlance, women must acquire balls and castrate the men they fiercely compete with. Thus the discriminatory sexual difference remains in play. Only men or those who emulate them are fit to rule. A Margaret Thatcher is exemplary in this regard: she was tolerated as a leader, even admired, by a patriarchal society because she actually acted like a man, thus transforming herself in the “iron maiden.”  Beauvoir's argument for equality does not fall into this kind of dangerous trap. She insists that women and men treat each other as equals and that such treatment requires that their sexual differences be not obliterated but respected and validated. In other words, equality is not a synonym for sameness.

What is perhaps the most famous line of The Second Sex, that “one is not born but becomes woman,” is credited by many as alerting us to the sex-gender distinction. The Second Sex gave us the vocabulary for analyzing the social constructions of femininity and a method for critiquing these constructions. By not accepting the common sense idea that to be born with female genitalia is to be born a woman this most famous line of The Second Sex pursues the first rule of phenomenology: identify your assumptions, treat them as prejudices and put them aside; do not bring them back into play until and unless they have been validated by experience. This is science at its best: assumptions must be validated.

What was a phenomenological breakthrough became in The Second Sex a liberatory tool: by attending to the ways that patriarchal structures used the sexual difference to deprive women of their “can do” bodies, Beauvoir made the case for declaring this deprivation oppressive. It, in turn, opened the way for the consciousness-raising that characterized the so called second wave feminism; it validated women's experiences of injustice. What from an existential-phenomenological perspective, was a detailed analysis of the lived body, and an ethical and political indictment of the ways that patriarchy alienated women from their embodied capacities; was, from a feminist perspective, an appeal that called on women to take up the politics of liberation.

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A classical image of the patriarchal assumption of woman’s inferiority

Several concepts are crucial to the argument of The Second Sex. The concept of the Other is introduced early in the text and drives the entire analysis. It has also become a critical concept in theories that analyze the oppressions of colonized, enslaved and other exploited people. Emanuel Levinas jumps to mind here. Beauvoir will use it again and again in her last major work, The Coming of Age, critiquing the ways that the elderly are “othered” by society.

Beauvoir bases her idea of the Other on Hegel's account of the master-slave dialectic. Instead of the terms “master” and “slave,” however, she uses the terms “Subject” and “Other.” The Subject is the absolute. The Other is the inessential. Unlike Hegel who universalized this dialectic, Beauvoir distinguishes the dialectic of exploitation between historically constituted Subjects and Others from the exploitation that ensues when the Subject is Man and the Other is Woman. I am led to think here of a movie such as Bread and Tulips (2000) by Silvio Soldini where this predicament of woman is explored.

The situation of women is comparable to the condition of the Hegelian Other in that men, like the Hegelian Master, identify themselves as the Subject, the absolute human type, and, measuring women by this standard of the human, identify them as inferior. Women's so-called inadequacies are then used as justification for seeing them as the Other and for treating them accordingly. According to Beauvoir, women and men exist in a “primordial Mitsein”: there is a unique bond between this Subject and its Other. In contesting their status as inessential, women must discover their “we” and take account of the Mitsein. Beauvoir uses the category of the “Inessential Other” to designate the unique situation of women as the ambiguous Other of men. This attention to what Beauvoir, borrowing from Heidegger, calls a “primordial Mitsein” may be why in The Second Sex she does not repeat her earlier argument that violence is sometimes necessary for the pursuit of justice.

Often criticized as one mark of Beauvoir's heterosexism, this reference to the Mitsein is a recognition of the present state of affairs where the heterosexual norm still prevails. If patriarchy is to be dismantled we will have to understand how hetero-normative sexuality serves it. To Beauvoir's way of thinking, however, the institutional alienations of heterosexuality ought not be confused with the erotic of heterosexual desire. The realities of this desire and the bond of the “primordial Mitsein” that it forges must be taken into account: not only is it used to enforce women's isolation and to support their inability to identify a common history, it is also responsible for the value and relationship that Beauvoir calls the “bond,” a situation-specific articulation of the appeal found in in The Ethics of Ambiguity.

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As Others, women are returned to the metaphysically privileged world of the child. They experience the happiness brought about by bad faith—a happiness of not being responsible for themselves, of not having to make consequential choices. From this existential perspective women may be said to be compliciteous in their subjugation. But this is not the whole story. If women are happy as the other, it may be because this is the only avenue of happiness open to them given the material and ideological realities of their situation.

Her assertion that woman feels a necessary bond with man regardless of reciprocity, however, escapes existential and Marxist categories. The bond of humanity goes beyond gender and sexual divisions. She does not approve of the way that women allow it to eclipse the requirement that they be recognized as free subjects, but she does alert us to the fact that recognition in itself is not the full story of the ethical relationship. To demand recognition without regard for the bond of humanity is itself unethical. It is the position of the Subject as master. To do that is to demand recognition for imitating the master, a la “iron maiden.”

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It is not a matter of appealing to men to give women their freedom, but a matter of women discovering their solidarity, rejecting the bad faith temptations of happiness, and discovering the pleasures of freedom. Further, though Beauvoir alerts us to the tensions and conflicts that this will create between men and women, she does not envision a permanent war of the sexes. Here her Hegelian-Marxist optimism prevails. Men will (ultimately) recognize women as free subjects.

The liberated woman must free herself from two shackles: first, the idea that to be independent she must be like men, and second, the socialization through which she becomes feminized. The first alienates her from her sexuality. The second makes her adverse to risking herself for her ideas/ideals. Attentive to this current state of affairs, and to the phenomenology of the body, Beauvoir sets two prerequisites for liberation. First, women must be socialized to engage the world. Second, they must be allowed to discover the unique ways that their embodiment engages the world. In short, the myth of woman must be dismantled. So long as it prevails, economic and political advances will fall short of the goal of liberation.

The goal of liberation, according to Beauvoir, is our mutual recognition of each other as free and as other. She finds one situation in which this mutual recognition (sometimes) exists today, the intimate heterosexual erotic encounter. Speaking of this intimacy she writes in the Second Sex that “The dimension of the relation of the other still exists; but the fact is that alterity has no longer a hostile implication.”  Why? Because lovers experience themselves and each other ambiguously, that is as both subjects and objects of erotic desire rather than as delineated according to institutionalized positions of man and woman. In Beauvoir's words, “The erotic experience is one that most poignantly discloses to human beings the ambiguity of their condition; in it they are aware of themselves as flesh and as spirit, as the other and as the subject”

The concept of ambiguity, developed abstractly in The Ethics of Ambiguity, is erotically embodied in The Second Sex and is identified as a crucial piece of the prescription for transcending the oppressions of patriarchy. This description of the liberating possibilities of the erotic encounter is also one of those places where Beauvoir reworks Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodiment. For in drawing on Merleau-Ponty's descriptions of the ways that we are world-making and world-embedded subject-objects, she reveals the ways that it is as subject-objects “for the world”, “to the world”, and “in the world” that we are passionately drawn to each other. It turns out that the problematic of feminism has nothing to do with the  question of mutual exclusion but  with that of mutual respect and recognition, of complementarity so to speak, not either or, but both and. Jung had it on target: to repress the feminine in every man’s psyche or the masculine in every woman’s psyche is a formula for dehumanization.

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2.

Sleeping Woman as a Prophet: An Essay on the Female Poet
A Presentation by Abigail George

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I will not smile because that is not what attracts you to me. Instead it is fire. Instead it is sitting in the school benches once upon a time, Anne Tyler’s breathing lessons, Anne Tyler’s celestial navigation, driftwood, and a forest of winter trees, the force of the night swimmers, the beach and making each one in its exclusivity sound poetic. Sound the most exquisitely poetic. Sound like the most high, most pure and chaste vision that you can visualise and see all-knowingly and make you want to believe that it is to be standing right in front of you. What is the first memory, the first desire, the primitive attraction and separation anxiety of the magnificence of creativity in the origins of the organisation of feminine intelligence in contemporary poetry? Is the proper voice not the voice of the lover, the voice of the child full of jubilant innocence?

The voices of mother and father in unison giving their child their first standing ovation, grandparents in attendance looking on priggishly mere caretakers of the illumined situation? How quickly pasts are mended, futures are healed and mended? Here is the beginning stages of the organisation of the origins of feminine intelligence. She is schooled in thoughts of culture, a masculine wisdom, vision, and educated by an otherness in luminous stream of consciousness thinking, writing. We need to be drenched in both perspective and identity. Our winning power (that which will never cease) lies in trying not to destroy everything that is above us, and that we believe in. Even our failures must inspire us. For the woman who can’t have children her infertility must inspire her to greater heights.

Whatever was taken was the brightness from the air that made up the shine of artistic genius and it was given to me like the besotted Milky Way, the smitten tangled fabric of the stars from the universe at night, the moon and stars inseparable intuits from the beginning of time. Both pulling down the shine of artistic genius a veil as thick as a tapestry. Is the sanity of a female poet as graceful as a shipwreck left to the gracious mercy of being the bride and bridegroom of nature as we think it is? Aren’t we all, aren’t you, yes, you aren’t we all just a little bit at the mercy of the creativity’s elusive artistry. Its ravishing blues, the breakdown to end all breakdowns, the be all and end all of the nervous breakdowns? Is it just chemical?

Is the sexual impulse, and that drive just the glamorous rub of love, as glamorous as lipstick? Does the female poet promise that it, her words can never be more than that?  Sometimes I catch myself saying those words without really meaning to say it, to say them. I try and detach myself from the glowing artful truth of them. Composing stillness, a courageous stillness, the stillness of intelligence, which is a feminine intelligence is poorer for having known the poverty of the world, and spiritual poverty. With all of the perversions that we discover in this world. With the intimacies, braveries, warriors we learn to let go, surrender if you will. We must or how can we live? We are all waiting for gifts. As a reward for futility or to take upon as just another responsibility.

There was a journal full of darkness in this most primitive of landscapes. Where winter promises snow, the harvesting of into the black, of one bleak and desolate landscape after the other the female poet projects herself into the canvas of her work. Her life becomes the poetry. Art mirrors life. Life mirrors art. The reflection of the female poet is a studious, effortless and conscientious project. The female poet wants to repent so go on then let her. The female poet only has to be wild and knowledgeable. She only has to be a thief of words and a healer. She only has to understand that the ocean-sea carries its burden as she carries hers, that of thief and cognisant healer. She is an animal with a gull’s wings and fortitude. She instructs, she corrects, she astonishes, she admonishes and she knows that to live in this world she has to be the swan. She has to swim.

But she must also have the insight of the ugly duckling, the Cinderella phenomenon, the Plath effect. A female poet knows when to sing, when to be mischievous, when to be the swimmer, the bride, give in to the environment, nature and when to love until she can feel it humming in her bones, giving into it through the fabric of her skin. The female poet in love knows when to surrender. The female poet when casting spells knows when to surrender. The words are there for us to go back to like a complicated film of us in a breath-taking way. A female poet does not need the eye of the public to watch her every move to know that she has made a difference in the world. She only needs a child’s all-knowing eyes.

From memory and desire the female poet in war knows when to surrender and that in the letting go comes a slight reprieve and the assembly of a tender scattered multiplicity of things that grow in the wild nature if you will. When it comes to rain it always dances like the gestures of imagination, and like the chilled earth in your hand that roses grow from, that fields of grass wrestle with themselves in, trees are not the interlopers but merely angels in another dimension with their branches acting like wings. You can tell yourself that here’s the breakthrough I’ve been looking for. Here’s the book of secrets my heart’s been longing for. And then you will realise that these are all gifts within the hours of your quiet desperation.

And that the vision of the female poet is in full bloom when she stands at the mouth of a river or not. When she’s hungry, whatever the origins of her beauty is, and most especially when she’s gone underground like some animal seeking shelter from the elements. There she stands. Blooming beautifully with her gift. Her poetry is fresh. It is her pound of flesh. It is her Renaissance. Isn’t the ancient dust under her bare feet delectable, hard won although it is a romance that is as good as dead, and she wants evidence of the cities, of life there because she doesn’t think she’ll make it if she’s plain? If she’s ordinary, if her madness is staggeringly ordinary and most of all if her poetry is not useful, pure enough.

Can we take violence from the magical design in the beauty of rain, the violence that we find within ourselves, on television, in print media, in modern society, in history, in literature, in love and war and in crime and can we find peace within the feast of the vertigo of the hill and the valley, the endless blue feet of the sky and the toughened green crest of the mountain. Will we be able to find stillness in the brightness illuminated from an adult world in the frame of a baby, in their eyes? Vladimir Nabokov was wrong. Poets have it within themselves to kill. They live with that thought, and very soon the thought becomes a pattern and after that the pattern becomes a vibration.

It is not clear whether the reader of the poetry catches on to that vision or that vibration and holds onto that substance prodigiously. Whether it soon resonates within him or her. Whether it resounds swiftly or at first very quietly inside his heart before it reaches for their mind and their psyche, their intellect and their ego, their soulless spirit and their soul. There’s dimensions to poetry just like there is to a piano, to a string quartet, a songwriter and the song they have just penned. At the end of the day you are an artist if you raise a child or write something, anything. In writing that ode or sonnet or bildungsroman, in preparing that breakfast or steak, finding yourself at an ashram or doing service.

All the sharp edges of creativity are there in a kind of bonhomie if you will. The spirit of creativity will always meet you in abundance if you meet it halfway. This is what female poets are starting to realise now. The tyranny of beauty meeting the female poet with her chin up and head held high head on. That kind of philosophy is not meant for the sexless tourist, that Orlando sashaying through this world of psychological firmaments searching for an asylum. Poets need people as much as people need poets. We need female poets most of all and they in return need a sanctuary. Sanctuary means having a roof over one’s head. A wide readership that is as wide as a morning. For a woman sanctuary can mean a lot of things.

It can mean acceptance. It can mean approval. Most of all it can mean love. Being on the receiving end of that love, engaging in it, being highly inspired to even greater wuthering heights is a place where spiritual poverty or any kind poverty does not exist anymore. Poverty is no longer just diminished or reduced it is also erased. The female poet wants you to love the poetry that she is giving to you with an open heart and an open mind. She finds meaning in human difficulties, pollen and birds but first and foremost she is nature’s bride. Nature gives her insight and the female poet is greedy for that insight. She has the stomach for it. She has the stomach to engage with a forceful pressure on the singularities found in the spirituality of nature.

Then there are other females who are poets who are interested in humanity and the sexual transaction. Other women who are interested in writing to heal some part of themselves that is in need of healing. Other female writers who want to forget something about the past, who want to surrender and let go of something bravely and boldly and they turn their attentions to putting all of their energies effortlessly and with dogged commitment into history and the reality that they find themselves in. A female poet looks at order and sees maladjustment there. She asks herself. ‘Who made it so’ and, ‘why is it like this?’ and ‘what am I seeing?’ She is always dreaming about knowledge. She knows that poetics comes with choices and responsibility. A poet is dust. A poet can be turned into dust during the process of writing the poem or at the end of writing the poetry or at the end of the book that she is writing.

But poetry can be many things. Its progress can be savage. Saviour or saving grace. Astrological discovery or comet. The ending can be aggressively beautiful or end violently brutal. It can either remind us of our own humanity or the cosmos, politics or social cohesion, community or society. It can make a socialite out of you or an interloper. A female who writes, who is an artist and sees chaos knows intuitively and through instinct what rules that chaos broke and what thought patterns brought it to life. She looks at a leaf and sees knowledge there. She sings and she suffers and sometimes, just sometimes she acknowledges both. How else can she escape delirious poverty and unhappiness if not through writing and rewriting the soul? That is her inspired compensation for her lot in life. That is how she invents and reinvents herself beautifully in a myriad of ways. The female poet is that sleeping woman. This oracle dreams in code and prophecy. She is a prophet although she does not know it yet. Prophets seldom proclaim that they are prophets. Although the lifetime of her body of work professes it.

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II

Reflections on Quotes regarding Poetry Written by Females and a Man

 

 

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
                                      ― Mary Oliver (Award winning American Poet)

“Sleeping. Turning in turn like planets rotating in their midnight meadow: a touch is enough to let us know we're not alone in the universe, even in sleep.”
                                     ― Adrienne Rich, The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984

“She stood upon a continent of ice, which sparkled between sea and sky, endless and dazzling, as though the world kept all its treasure there; a scale which balanced poetry and prayer.”
                                     ― Carol Ann Duffy, Another Night Before Christmas

“You know, all poetry may be a cry of generalised love, for this, or that, or the universe - which must be loved in its particularity, not its generality, but for its universal life in every minute particular. I have always supposed it to be a cry of; unsatisfied love; - and so it may be indeed - for satisfaction may surfeit it and so it may die. I know many poets who write only when in an exalted state of mind which they compare to; being in love, when they do not simply state, that they are in love, that they seek love - for this fresh damsel - or that lively young woman - in order to find a fresh metaphor, or a new bright vision of things in themselves. And to tell you the truth, I have always believed I could diagnose this state of; being in love; which they regard as; most particular, as inspired by item, one pair of black eyes or indifferent blue, item, one graceful attitude of body or mind, item, one female history of some twenty-two years from, shall we say 1821-1844 – I have always believed this; in love; to be of something of the most abstract masking itself under the particular forms of both lover and beloved. And Poet who assumes and informs both.”
                                         ― A.S. Byatt, Possession

“As an oracle to the goddess, the female outcast speaks as prophetess of times to come, interpreter of dreams of an unrevealed future. Outcasts are at home in the world of magic and infinite change. Their individual personalities merge with that of legend. Becoming vehicles of immortality, they self-create their own myths, weave a spell over poets and artists and spread a belief in transcendence that heralds the future.”
                                          ― Florence Farr

“Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.”
                                         ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 sym68

III
Creative Writing
The Fibre of North America

 sym69

She was the scholarship girl, my sister. She held a snowball in her hand in the picture. I wonder how she felt when she let go of it. Were her fingers freezing? Could she still feel her hands? Were her knuckles bleached as white as the fog that hugged the ghost of the skyline? Were her fingertips and palms tingling on the lisp of the afternoon breeze or were they wet and numb?

It made me feel like a parachute opening and closing, shutting in and shutting up staring at her face in the picture. It was her first snowball and my first glimpse of her independence. Everywhere she went her smile was a gift. She was digging her way through streets encrusted with snow into concerts, dingy clubs, subways, Central Park, Time Square, everything American – this was her country now; I know even less of her now than I did then when she was still in high school. She fit, she dived into a crowd and her head would stick in there with all the other nice, decent girls who come from good homes who wear golden bangles on their wrists, earrings, burn incense, scented candles, cook for their friends, a pasta dish, something like spaghetti bolognaise or even cheaper, macaroni and cheese. Like all the other girls in the crowd she has a job, it doesn’t pay enough but it’s enough to get by, pay the bills, rent, credit cards, buy a round of cocktails on a Friday night. I play, she mocked, always the plain pariah toughening it out. She made me feel little as if I collected nothing but rivers of my shark teeth, my overbite biting into food and making me grow bigger and bigger, cow-heavier while all this time she consumed the world, omnipotent.

Mocking, mocking, mocking, against all her words I had no protection. It felt as if I had a stone in my shoe or round my heart or I was wearing it around my neck to ward off evil.

She’s shown me over the years that I don’t know her at all. Show me everything about you is all I thought I had to say – only she could make me feel this blue, friendly sky felt like a star over burning Hiroshima the day the bomb fell; shot the world of Pearl Harbour to hell – a spot dissolved in a stormy cup of code of red letters, cryptic, dark circles. A whole army of them – I miss the dark waters of important memories that stayed behind a continent away in the southern most tips of Africa; Port Elizabeth and her windswept hair. She reminded me of Sylvia Plath. Anne Sexton, Basquiat, Warhol. She made me read, she willed me with her quiet determination to escape our household, the dysfunction behind closed doors and the disconnect between the five of us, to grab hold of something tangible, (something that I could feel and touch and taste) of William Styron’s ‘Darkness Visible’ and ‘Sophie’s Choice’. Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’, Doris Lessing’s ‘Five’ and ‘The Golden Notebook’, Graham Greene’s ‘The End of the Affair’, John Updike’s ‘Couples’, Christina Crawford’s ‘Mommie Dearest’ and Sartre’s ‘Nausea’.

 sym70

Is becoming a man and acting like a man the solution to gender discrimination?

She arrived in Fort Lauderdale on a Rotary scholarship. Left all the applauding lions and elephants behind, parents that she was sick to death of the sight of, a sister who is mentally ill and who has all the sinister potential of making it anyway and a younger brother who didn’t believe that smoking and drinking single malt whiskies was for grownups. She detached herself from her childhood and grew as cool as an iceberg.

This darling made it as far as America. How did she do it? Sheer guts, tenacity, disciplined hard work. She hid ‘The Bell Jar’ and ‘Franny and Zooey’ under the bed. She lost them. They were a Christmas present from me to her. How far is up? To the blank, ghostliness, slate face of the cool, grey bulges of the moon, the fat orange sun that has no door. Still wild, it shimmers and glows. Both only inhabit our cruel world for hours at a time and glitters in heat waves and so she stuffed herself with Chinese food and cheesecake and decided this is the life; to live like the rich do, as she took their coats and hung them up with a number at an elite country club called the ‘Mutton Country Club’ and did absolutely everything American as she could possibly do before she left. And so she forgot about us, about home, the house she lived in for sixteen years and the four stone gods, Buddha-like in her consciousness, all owners of lonely hearts in a wilderness of biochemistry and decay. Once I nestled her sweet head in my lap and breathed in the scent of her hair – of powder, scent, perfume, skin against skin, not yet old, a face gone all wrinkly like fingers like prunes from a bath, smelling old; no longer an extraordinary machine like she was in her youth but I knew we would get there. We would grow old together. Now she can hardly bare me to touch you. I see less and less of her; she doesn’t ask to be taken care of; there are no longer whispers in the dark as me and her camp out in front of the television, there is only her magical thinking, her pureness of heart, her humanity, her alchemy.

She’s a mother and a wife waiting in the wings like a young girl from the northern most parts of Africa who stepped on a mine which blew her leg to smithereens and now she waits for her prostheses like my sister waits to be swept away, swept off her feet. She is already posed in her natural habitat – her dewy eyes are gems, once diamonds in the rough. Once she wore a crown of thorns in childhood, in those rough, tidal, shadow-boxing teenage years when bad, bad things happened to show up in her life – a yellow shout of melancholy, a bounce of little hopelessness and so her innocence was snuffed out, burned long before its time, planted into a dead nothingness, yet it still left her cradled her like a Magus. The vastness of the design of this emptiness, hers and mine is now exposed. She was what I needed in this aftertime. I wanted closure, forgiveness to be brought finally to our relationship. Her mood swings were poison. One moment she could be an onion in a jar completely at peace with itself in pickling fluid, sober then in an instant whether I’m at the stove, with the pots, watching television, brushing against her she could cut you like a knife, cutting off your air supply with an ugly, dark veil, the edges of her voice screaming for blood from black to black. 

When she came back from America I was in Swaziland and she was in Port Elizabeth. I was living and going to school in another country and she was living and going to school in another country. We hardly spoke on the phone only to say, ‘hello’ and ‘I miss you, love you’ and ‘I’ll be home soon’. I want her to love me like I love her, something beautiful. Is that asking too much? It is not a unique question. It is an ancient one. I would love to believe in tenderness. I am ready for the enormity of it all and the variety of it. Perhaps I know why she will not give in to me. Perhaps she’s terrified of the invisibles of the planet. Annihilating gravity. Perhaps one day we’ll laugh at our scars, our issues, weep for what we killed dead, we will laugh at each other and cry like babies. If only she wasn’t as serious and cold as winter, this Arctic woman, my sister. If only I could carve the word ‘l-o-v-e’ into her heart and it would fly into her brains, take root but there is always black in the air, looming in the background, hovering like a hooded truant or barbarian knocking at our door in the early morning wanting money, silver change or dry bread, perhaps I guess his only meal for the day. Perhaps we won’t get so upset, have words and close our bedroom doors like we did when we were children and moody, anxious teenagers and both of us pretending that the other one did not exist in the house. She flowers when she comes out of the bathroom after her ablutions. Scent in the air, expensive perfume, creamy white potions in tiny jars for lines, for wrinkles, to soothe, to soften the skin, creams for sun damage, for exfoliation, to gently scrub away the dead skin, to take away dark blemishes caused by the sun. There is subtle proof of her existence after the bathwater has just run down the drain. Her light smells, a mist, vapour against the bathroom mirror, her make-up stored on the window sill, a bottle of lavender bubble bath standing open.

She was born on my birthday, June 14 1983. My parents’ birthday present to me. They only presented her to me a few days later when my mother was released from the same hospital I was born in, June 14 1979 at the Livingstone Hospital. I was having a birthday party with my aunt presiding over it, hosting it for a group of boisterous children so when the news came of the new baby I was playing, opening up the presents the other children had brought me. I’m just an actor now playing the parts of writer, poet, teacher and volunteer. I pray and read my Bible to kill off my sin, that’s when I am most in my element.

IV
Creative Writing:
Daddy’s Country the Land That Borders on God Is Now within Me

 sym71

My parents never taught me about how to go about making friends for life. Life overwhelmed me as a child. It overwhelmed me again as a young, inexperienced teacher, as a suitor wooing the young woman who was to become my future wife, that bride in her wedding lace and that virginal bride. And then it overwhelmed me again as a married man, as a father with three small children who looked up to me. I had to play mentor and role model. Depression is a malevolent story meant for grownups. The order of life there is somehow flawed. You ask yourself whatever happened to the routine of it all. There is no arrangement in the vase. You want to pick it up and hurl it across the room because that is what women do. Standing still they will composes themselves amongst the shitty life of the bits and pieces of it all or they will collapse. And they will come to the realisation that they will have to get the broom and sweep up this mess. Men can’t do that. Men can’t become emotional. They just don’t have that kind of mentality. They don’t have it within them unless they are alcoholics. Now there’s romanticism for you. Women on the other hand. Well they become emotional in the moment. They cannot find the correct expression to wear on their faces.

All they can do is perhaps to mess up their hair and makeup. All they can do is wear their lipstick on their teeth, burst into tears and wait for someone to show up and rescue them. They do not know the proper way of how to go about to address madness. The instant they become spontaneously overwhelmed in the moment they reveal the source of their vulnerability. Sometimes a man can wish he can be like a woman. That he can be an open book to the world. That he can have that sweet face. Man is driven to be physical when he is enraged. That is his nature. He lives and breathes by instinct. He follows through with that impulse. He can’t waste his thoughts, time and energy infinitely like a woman on self-pity. Women truly loathe themselves. They think they can only be respected if they are perfectly put together inside and out. They relish the jealousy of other women their age. They want to be seen as beautiful first. They don’t really care about having those brains, having that intelligence if they haven’t had a father or a mother figure to instil that, the origins, the structures in them from a young age. They leave it to men to be confident leaders.

 sym72

And when women have a mental sickness, when women are haunted by hallucinatory apparitions it is said in polite company that they are troubled. Perhaps talk will go as far as to say that they are deeply troubled. With men it is different. He becomes a drooling figure of fun. He becomes a clown with floppy shoes that are much too big for him to walk around in and behind his painted smile and dammit his jokes really aren’t that funny. In the hospital you think that every hour is your last. I was a sportsman when I was younger although you wouldn’t say it now. You wouldn’t say it because I have belly fat. I have a stomach that hangs over my pants. You would think it is maybe because I drink too much beer over the weekends or have that single malt whisky hidden in the bottom draw and indulge in watching sport on the television. I do indulge in too much greasy, fatty food which I probably shouldn’t. But that is what this disease can do to you. Turn your brains into a fatty soup. Make you feel ecstatic at meal times. Sometimes it can make you feel dead inside. Sometimes you feel as if the fabric of your skin is illuminated. As if it is dazzling. I don’t long for a cigarette. I gave up smoking years ago before my children were born.

And I stuck to it in a way that I never thought was possible. There’s a brightness around me sometimes. I know I am going under that bridge again and when that depression returns I do sometimes feel a terror inside. A terror that I am never going to really come all the way back. I am never going to be the same husband and father to my children. The depression and I have become inseparable from each other. I can’t bring myself to cut the umbilical cord between us. I can’t completely believe that I am the one that nurtures and gives the melancholia life. The diagnosis is night. I look at my wife. In all her femininity, the folds of her dress as she walks brushing against her ankles, her painful toes in her heels I realise that she is physically stronger than me because she fights the depression within her.  Whenever she feels it coming upon her she can counterattack it. She is the leader while I become diminished in her sight. A diminishment I cannot erase no matter how hard I try in my recovery period at home after I return from hospital life. It is another world, another country. Novel landscapes that I must get used to again and again and again. Children running under foot. Children growing older. Going home to a house where you hear children’s laughter takes getting me a while to get used to.

She needed to be loved, embraced and accepted by a man of all things in this world. And it had to be a beautiful man. All of those holier than thou sacred rituals that spelled personal success at the end of the rites of passage into young adulthood. As a father I knew she wanted and needed all of those rituals religiously. But she was already lost. She needed a lighthouse. She didn’t know it but she needed one. I wanted to ask her. I had questions.  Do you want a man who is in love with his own voice? Do you want a man who is not going to listen to you? A man who is not a warm and sincere listener? Or do you want to live with a man who wants his ego stroked all day and all night? For they are all out there to be embraced by a young woman who has little or no self-esteem or worth. And what do you think of a man who causes an injury to another man thinking very little or nothing it? Who does not think of sparing his enemy that slight or that humiliation? What do you think of a woman who injures another woman? Man against woman. Woman against man. All the time causing an injury. And I think that what I am touching is pure art because all art is borne of pain and injury. I think of my daughter, the child who will forever be caught in the middle for the rest of the life.

She is leaving me behind in the dust with those imaginary shadows. Leaving me behind with those ghosts. I wanted to tell her all of things even though I knew my warning would fall on deaf ears. She didn’t want to be my accomplice. She didn’t want to take up her place in a line of a succession of feminists. Standing in line was not meant for a girl like her. A young lady who had goals and dreams, norms and values and who had not dreamt of suicide a day in her life like her older sister had. Her older sister who become a sullen teenager who does not like the way the hairdresser cut her hair and who complains about everything. Her mother’s erratic behaviour, her mother’s quaint sayings that were like small explosions going off, the way she cooks and the preparation that goes into her food.  My daughters, my daughters, my daughters. I could not protect them forever. And I was slow to come to that realisation. Slower to come to accept. I had to learn to accept it. My daughters were like weeping willows. At night I would creep into their bedrooms and watch them sleep. Watch them inhale and exhale in all their innocence of that dark and cruel world outside the doors of this house.

This house that I had built. On the beach they had the song of willows in the hair and when they cried out my name I felt something twist inside my heart. Was it pain? Was it something that had the great depths of beauty? It made me feel like a wreck. A beautiful designed by seawaters wreck with that had those symmetries. I wondered if they would carry all the symbolic treasures of their childhood into young adulthood with them. The moon of their childhood. Their sunburnt legs licked by wind and the elements. And I counted the days of how soon they would find the suffering in exiting childhood. When the children weren’t in the house. When they were at Speech and Drama or a swimming lesion or an extra class to catch up on English or Mathematics I would walk through all the rooms in the house. It was as if they had left an imprint of their physical bodies and their laughter behind and somehow it seemed to mask the anguish and the pain I felt of the fact that one day soon I would have to let them go. I would have to surrender them to the unknown, to the wilderness, to that wasteland that was both reality and the universe and they would have to figure out for themselves what a metaphysical survival would meant to them.

Their fingerprints were there even though I could not see them against the walls of the interiors of the house. Adults pride themselves on the gift of investing in themselves, perfecting themselves but not acquiring the gift of love. Love is more like a holiday. Easter. Christmas. Most if they’re lucky think it is merely a temporary frame. A flame. That waterfall.  That teardrop. After hospital life I soon got over the shock of standing still, waiting and recovering. After all insanity was just a relapse into an otherworldly experience and the wonderful thing about life is that we are all searching for a metaphysical survival after surviving a traumatic experience. That storm that leaves us bloodied, feeling pins and needles in our hands, feeling desolate and alone with our hearts filled with despair at the thought of what will happen next. Survival will always be there making an honest living. There will always be a cave out there for sanctuary. But what am I really afraid of? Sometimes I fear I am missing a part of myself because of this mental sickness. That I am the screaming man. That the big, bad wolf has finally got hold of me with its mouth and its crazy jaws. I had those women on my arm in youth. I had been in love numerous times because that is sometimes the nature of the illness.

I was like ordinary people. I was afraid of debt. I bought on credit. I was lonely.

In the ward at that posh clinic you went to for a week you find yourself feeling flat. You also find that you need to write and the words pour out of you like wine. You can taste its sweetness. You find that you are thirsty all the time. And everyone, every single person there becomes a sexual object to you. You no longer see the individual behind the person. If people could read your mind, could read your thoughts they would see an arrogant bastard who knew everything there was to know about the world of the egotistical alpha male and the bewilderment of craziness and acting crazily, talking crazy, walking around wounded and scarred for life by the images of religion. The purification rituals of religion. You think of the church, of your faith as your second home, your second family. You need water. You need to drink. You need to empty this self-pity out of you. It feels liquid (of course it’s liquid) this weight of water filling up your chest. Manoeuvring its way to your heart and finding its way to your platelets and your brain.

Nobody tells you how to go about making friends for life when you are mentally ill. When you are forever carrying around this sickness within your heart. Jealousy is something else. It is one of the hardest things in this world to let go of. It is just supposed to happen as naturally as cold weather and snow in winter. Snow spreading out in a wild field or fields filled with hay in summertime. Poppies heads screaming to be heard. Screaming red. Signalling an emergency service. When you are a child, dreamer nobody tells you of the pressures of an adult life.

You find that you keep on asking yourself if this is a story for grownups because children will pick up on the awareness of illness, on the evils of this world. That exists because of the nature of man and frustration. Are you missing a part of yourself because you are no longer in love with the world or that you have come to the realisation that it is no longer in love with you? What has happened to you being in high spirits, being the life of the party? What has happened to your soul? It has turned into soup. It has turned dark out even though you can still feel the brightness of the day, the texture of the sun like the song says. I am afraid of sadness. The sameness. I am afraid of suffering and of the days that will come when I will no longer suffer. I do not reach for my wife anymore in the dark. It is no longer strange to me to find myself alone at night although I can still hear her breathing. I no longer feel the warmth of her body next to mine. But the doctors do not speak of this to you. They do not speak of the consequences and the challenges that you will have to face up to come hell or high water. Perhaps I think they might be too embarrassed to be open and honest with you. My wife and I, well we have become strangers to one another overnight. She no longer cooks for me.

Everything has become too much for her and I think it has a lot to do with me. It is my fault. Everything is my fault. Blame me. Blame me for the separation. Blame me for the fact that we were nearly divorced when our youngest was on the brink of becoming a teen-ager. Of course there are days when I feel I am missing a part of myself because it feels as if I am no longer in love. That I haven’t got that woman on my arm anymore or in my arms at night. There are times that I am inclined to think that I am a victim and that I am not a survivor because that it is the nature of illness. Having a disease or any kind of sickness will do that to you. I am the screaming man.

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 END  OF 39th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (20/11/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

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