Tutor profile: Maggie D.
Subject: Religious Studies
What role do opposites play within Rumi's Masnavi?
Throughout Rumi’s Masnavi, a Sufi poetic work considered by many to transcend the boundaries of time and tradition, we as readers are brought to question the nature of opposites. Without the dark there can be no light, no creation without both the masculine and feminine, no existence without non-existence, no man without woman, no cure without a poison, no wisdom without the carnal soul, and so on. However, to view these opposites as separate entities is entirely incorrect. Due to their dependent nature — the necessary balance that is achieved through their union of being — they are inherently one. Thus, it is the same with the Sufi concept of the two lovers - that which leads to understanding transcendent divine union. There is no “you” and “I”, but through their union there is one only the “you” in the eyes of the lover. Rumi stresses this balance in union, as he states that the true fallacy of this temporal world is multiplicity. Humanity thus perfectly represents the union of the temporal and eternal, as the Adam was created out of clay yet had that which heavenly beings lacked. It is in the balance of the earthly and the divine within the human that love becomes possible. This capacity of love is thus unique to humanity, through the union of being. In the tale of the poor bedouin and his wife, we find the perfect example of balance through union. In their argument, these two partners appear separate, and in this state, both lose their way. They are lost without the balance of their union. However, when they realize this fault, and are bound together once more as lovers in one being, then they are able to find the true divine path once more. Rumi thus illustrates how, without any question, man needs woman. It is through her that he may seek out that which is truly divine, because he must first understand union with her — "Though outwardly above her you may tower, You want her, so within she has the power. This love’s the special human quality; Beasts lack it — that’s their inferiority." (150) The ability to love is what sets humanity apart from the rest of creation, for it is achieved in the human through the union of the temporal and divine realms. Human is neither purely of earth like animals, nor purely of the heavens like angels, and thus through this union of being, can love. The husband and wife in this story not only represent the union of two lovers, but this union of the different selves within the individual. Rumi states that the wife represents the carnal self, tied to earth, while the husband represents wisdom, tied to the spiritual realm alone. When ruled by the carnal self alone, one is like the animal, incapable of higher love. And when one is ruled by wisdom alone, they lack any ties to the earthly realm that allows for the form necessary in moving towards a deeper understanding, and thus the individual is once again incapable of love. Thus, the wife is like the animal, and the husband is like the angel. In the meeting of the two realms, the human is created, and therefore the capacity for love is also created. While earthly love is considered a mere drop in the ocean of God’s love, it is a crucial step on the path to divine love. Yet, one must also understand that the temporal is not the end goal. Through this necessary step, one is thus able to understand true union, and move into true union with the divine. Through existence, one is able to achieve non-existence, and vice versa. In the death of the individual, the spirit moves beyond the human form, and into the “you” of God. Through an understanding of the balance found within the complete unity of God and all of God’s creation, one is more able to understand the path to that complete union: "Some love the Whole and some love just a part, The latter from the Whole are kept apart; The one who loves a part soon also learns That his beloved to the Whole returns...” (172)
How does Edward Said's concept of the Other compare to that proposed by Simone de Beauvoir?
Within Orientalism, Edward Said first introduces the concepts of pure and political knowledge as supposedly opposite theories. Employing the example of how political scholarship is more often than not described in opposition to literary scholarship, Said reflects upon the restrictive nature of the binary imposed upon such schools of thought that are not necessarily so clean-cut. This is made clear in Said's concepts of political versus pure knowledge when addressing the imperialist West’s view of the East. In referencing the “other” of the described "Orient", it quickly becomes clear that no matter the circumstance, the Western Imperialist lens affected the European/American worldview: “For if it is true that no production of knowledge in the human sciences can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European or American studying the Orient there can be no disclaiming the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second.” (Orientalism, Page 11) Thus, Said proposes that one’s identity as European/American inherently plays a role in knowledge, as their identity as such comes before the mere fact of shared humanity. The concept of "the Orient" is presented not merely as a political work but as a cultural one as well, as bias mingled with manipulation, aesthetic pursuits, perceived superiority, and intrigue, amongst other factors. Simone de Beauvoir begins her argument by asking, overall, what exactly a woman is. Establishing the fact that race and gender are merely made-up mechanisms of society, she addresses the absurdity of thus buying into a gender binary. Additionally, as opposed to woman and man being presented as equals in this binary, woman is instead viewed as the lesser position, as we live and function in a fundamentally patriarchal society: “In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.” (The Second Sex, Page 2) Within this patriarchal society, it is masculinity and all the traits associated with it that is celebrated. Thus de Beauvoir presents the gender associated with femininity as the other, as it is categorized in direct opposition to the desired masculine, always maintaining a relational role in society. “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.” (The Second Sex, Page 3) Woman’s “purpose” within this piece is described in relation to the man as well, as she is described as merely a womb or an object of sex. A multitude of similarities can be identified in the content of Said and de Beauvoir's individual works. While both present their prospective topics — gender and "the Orient" — as social constructs, this created nature does little to undermine the power maintained over both subsequent groups. They both present this otherization as a means of subordination and manipulation to serve the power’s needs and desires. Additionally, both writers stress the role of identity. In Orientalism, Said describes how Imperialists identified as European or American first, before human. De Beauvoir parallels this statement in her explanation of the gender binary, in which women are first identified as women rather than human, whereas men need not establish their manhood first in society. Similarly, in contemporary America, an individual may identify as many different things — from their American nationality, to their political party, to their religious or non-religious identity, etc., before identifying as an overall human being in relation to other human beings.
Employing examples within children's/young adult literature, what literary themes can be identified within contemporary coming-of-age novels?
The Freedom of the Liminal State of Adolescence vs. Institutional Conformity within The Giver and The Golden Compass Lois Lowry’s young adult novel The Giver presents us as readers with some of the largest questions of society, humanity, and culture through the lens of a distinctly dystopian narrative. Through the eyes of adolescent Jonas, we are introduced to a highly controlled community which lacks elements such as art, religion, death, suffering, color, music, sexuality, love, race, etc. As just another cog in this grey machine of uniform humanity, Jonas differs from those around him. In his 12th year he is selected to become the next Giver — the holder of knowledge prior to the construction of the community and its uniformity. He thus experiences all of the elements which we would consider to be inherently human — love, pain, sexuality, color, difference, freedom, etc. And through his gained knowledge, Jonas begins to question — are conflict, war, pain, and all of the negative elements of previous society worth the beauty and freedom of individuality and choice when it comes to religion, politics, art, culture, love, and sexuality? This novel reflects many of the common themes we have encountered throughout this course, yet especially connects to Philip Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass. I will be focusing primarily on connections between these two novels in terms of the adolescent hero approaching individuality, freedom, and higher knowledge in the face of institutional structures that constrict and insist upon conformity. Within both of these novels, we encounter protagonists who are just at the brink of adolescence — in the liminal state between childhood and adulthood, in which both the body and mind are constantly in flux. This state of liminality is crucial to both of these stories, as characters do not specifically adhere to the rules prescribed to them by either childhood or adulthood. They are learning to make decisions for themselves, discovering what their place is in the world, and coming into their own opinions. They are forming their own sense of self. Additionally, both Jonas and Lyra are granted with a special insight in this liminal space — as both are able to see things that those around them cannot. There is a wisdom in their liminality, as they are able to see beyond the constructions set before them, and into a higher plane. Both works offer us as readers a clear critique of the powerful institutions that control society and those within it. While Pullman has been overtly transparent in his criticism of religious institutions, Lowry has tended to provide more open-ended responses about The Giver. In an interview with Anita Silvey for the “School Library Journal”, Lowry states that her books are not purposefully theological, yet The Giver ended up being embraced by many groups in this way: “I wasn’t conscious of adding any theological symbolism. If I had begun to think in literally Christian terms, I would have backed off of the project because I have no interest in writing “religious” books. Still, clearly, the theology is there, inherent in the story. Many Christian churches have taken The Giver up as part of their religion curriculum, and many Jewish people give it as a bar mitzvah gift. At the same time, some fundamentalist leaders want it removed from everyone’s hands...” (Silvey, Anita.“Interview with Lois Lowry, Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner.”) Both The Giver and The Golden Compass have been banned by a number of educational institutions — viewed as dangerous to the minds of young readers and encouraging opinions which are condemned by many of the socio-political and religious powers-that-be. However, in other environments, these novels have been viewed as valuable educational materials for the growth of young minds. Within both books, there is a theme of controlling the sexuality that begins around adolescence, as innocence is attempted to be maintained. In The Golden Compass, it is the General Oblation Board of the Church that performs a cutting of daemon and child in order to prevent the gathering of dust tied to Original Sin. On the other hand, within The Giver, it is the governing body that gives people pills to prevent sexual urges, beginning at adolescence. While the institutions differ in their religious vs. political presentation, they play similar roles in the repression of sexual, and all, freedom. It is through their liminality and the gifts of higher knowledge that are presented to them in this state of being betwixt and between that both Jonas and Lyra are able to seek out individual freedom and both the beauty and suffering that comes with it. They both represent a freedom of expression outside of institutional conformity. Through their gifts, they see through the constructions of institutions and the present earthly realm, and into a higher plane of human existence that contains both beauty and pain, incomprehensible love and also fear. It is through leaving the confines of their institutions that these young heroes are able to reach transcendent states of human and beyond-human understanding.
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